Russell Wilson finally got paid

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was drafted in the third round in 2012

So just where are those former players and execs that still refuse to acknowledge the shift in player power this morning? After Antonio Brown was granted everything under the sun by the Raiders, it now appears that if you are a franchise QB you can impose a contract deadline and get a record setting deal in return. After weeks of rumours regarding a potential trade/end of season free agency move to the New York Giants (often a negotiating tactic by the agent representing the player), the Seahawks starting QB got what he ultimately wanted. In the early hours of this morning he signed a 4 year contract worth a reported $140m, that now makes him the highest paid player, per season, in NFL history. With such a huge contract and the current trend of big name players getting what they want, here we take a quick look at how this could impact the NFL moving forward.

As has been the trend over the last 4 to 5 seasons, NFL QB’s are getting paid. First it was Andrew Luck, then Jimmy G, then Kirk Cousins, and then Matt Ryan, until Aaron Rodgers blew all of their respective contracts out of the water in 2018. Yet each contract was expected, largely due to how the NFL’s current labor deal is structured. Signed as part of the collective bargaining agreement in 2011, it has allowed players to command more and more each year due to ever increasing NFL revenue. Nevertheless, although said agreement runs to 2021, with several premier QB’s now under contract and players like Dak Prescott likely to secure at least $25m per year sooner rather than later, don’t expect the market to spiral completely out of control for at least another 2 years, when we will see Patrick Mahomes receive the next record setting deal.

Yet when these contracts are agreed who wins? Is it good for the players? Absolutely. Is it good for the teams? Well that is a little harder to answer. Russell Wilson got paid his current market value, and in return the Seahawks secured their franchise QB for what should be the best years of his relatively young career. Yet look at the immediate impact such a large contract had on the Packers, the Falcons, the Vikings and the Colts. Teams often appear to struggle to secure both their young stars, as well as the occasional marquee talent that might just push them over the top towards a championship. So unless a team has an unprecedented run in the draft (like the Seahawk’s had with Wagner, Sherman, Chancellor, Wilson et al), or players are playing lights out in a contract year, history has shown that it becomes increasingly harder to remain competitive, at least in the short term. In reality only Bill Belichick has been able to successfully turn over a roster year after year and still remain a force. Yet the Patriots have had relative financial flexibility over the years due to the discount Tom Brady gives the organisation. Once he retires the Patriots will likely find themselves in a similar position — having to pay whatever the market rate is for their future franchise QB.

And this leads me to one final observation. How much do these players want to win a championship? There can be little doubt regarding their respective talents, and both Rodgers and Wilson will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But have they done absolutely everything that is necessary to win? Is it even their responsibility to do so? Ask yourself whether you would take a pay cut to ensure a better working environment? If the answer is no how can anyone expect a professional athlete to? Nevertheless, no team has ever won a Super Bowl whilst having a player account for over 13% in total cap space, and for the time being at least, this trend will likely continue. Finally, could we see a future trend where teams regularly draft new (cheaper) QB’s like they do with other skill positions? Could blockbuster QB trades be the future to ensure teams can spread the wealth? Or perhaps more QB’s will risk playing under the franchise tag, as Kirk Cousins did when he was with the Redskins, if teams become reluctant to hand over more guaranteed dollars? Yet whilst QB’s are making more money than ever before, we will likely have to wait for the next collective bargaining agreement to answer those questions. J

The NFL’s big move

With the opening of the NFL’s first purpose built stadium outside of the United States; here we take an in depth look at how we got here, and what this represents for American Football moving forward.

The NFL’s first international purpose built stadium

NFL expansion. Back in the United States these are words that are traditionally welcomed by owners and fanbases alike. Traditionally believed to assist the growth of the game, the most recent wave came between 1995-2002 when 5 additional teams were created (if you count the revived Cleveland Browns of course). The teams? Carolina, Jacksonville, Baltimore and Houston. Outside of the latter, one may believe these to be relatively small markets, yet they were all strategic, calculated moves, made by a relatively conservative ownership group. So why expand and add competition to a successful product they all have equal share of? As always the answer is related to dollars. After all, it’s the sole reason why the Rams and Chargers were moved to Los Angeles, and why the Oakland Raiders received permission to move to Las Vegas despite being a market long feared by the NFL due to the potential pitfalls of legalised sports betting. Nevertheless, the world of professional sports rarely stands still, and with all of the above, just what is the NFL’s next ‘big’ move?

For those old enough to remember, the NFL’s first attempt at testing the popularity of the sport on an international stage was with the introduction of the World League of American Football, later rebranded NFL Europe. From its inaugural season in 1991, to its end in 2008, NFL teams used the league to supplement their rosters with young, unproven talent, whilst giving them an opportunity to gain experience through additional playing time and coaching. Audiences on the other hand got to see emerging talent such as Jake Delhomme, Adam Vinatieri, James Harrison and one Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner. However, the overall benefit to European audiences was unclear, and the stop start nature of the sport was believed to be too contrived amongst the fans of more free flowing sports without seeing the very best stars the sport had to offer. Thus, with dwindling attendances and the league operating at an annual loss, NFL Europe ceased to exist, with the NFL seeking to replace it with a more focused approach, dedicated to bringing the real thing to audiences around the world. Subsequently, in 2007 the league launched the International Series, and by doing so the NFL set out a 10 year plan to right the wrongs of their annual European ‘spring league’.

As previously alluded to, the first phase was to bring regular season games to audiences outside of the US, with said games almost exclusively being held in London at Wembley Stadium, England’s historic national Football (Soccer) home. To the NFL’s surprise, each year the game sold out within hours, due in part because the NFL ensured each game had one, or a combination of, either a genuine Super Bowl contender, or a historic franchise that had an existing fan base outside of the US. With record attendances each year, and some incredibly encouraging broadcasting figures, the NFL doubled down in 2013 and announced a second game was to be held each year, with the Jacksonville Jaguars (more on this later) announcing a partnership with the NFL to bring one home game to London until the 2020 season. Later, Mexico’s Estadio Azteca, and England’s national Rugby stadium, Twickenham, were added as additional venues in 2016 and 2017 respectively, with both the Rams, Chargers and Raiders all joining the Jaguars as part of their respective deals for relocation.

So this brings us to 2019, where there will be FIVE regular season games played outside of the US, which in 2007 was scarcely believable to the average American Football fan. Yet here we are. Speaking from personal experience and as someone who has attended games each year since 2007, you can sense a shift in both knowledge and energy each year. Not only do we no longer have to endure mid game explanations of some very basic Football concepts (hallelujah), due in part to the exceptional domestic coverage the game receives from British American football personalities such as Neil Reynolds and former New York Giant and Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora, but a number of unofficial tailgates are springing up as well, both sure signs of the sport’s growth and ability to mobilise fans.

In truth, said growth should not be underestimated. In late 2018 NFL research reported there being in excess of 13 million fans in the UK, with 5.7 million describing themselves to be ‘avid’ followers of the league. Consequently, with a population of just 66 million, 19.7% have some form of affinity towards the sport. Globally, this figure is even higher, with globalwebindex’s 2015 ‘GWI audience report’ finding 38% of adults to be fans. Naturally these figures are higher in the US, with 65% of adults saying they follow a combination of the NFL and CFB. Yet in a world that is so in love with the other ‘beautiful game’, these figures show just how far the sport has come. Indeed participation at grass roots levels in the UK is also at an unprecedented high, due in part to several NFL funded programme’s, with 81 universities now competing against one another under the British Universities and College Sport umbrella. Consequently, with said International Series and a significant commitment to grass roots participation, the next step in the NFL’s grand plan has now come to fruition, partnering with the EPL’s Tottenham Hotspur to fund the first purpose built professional American football stadium outside of North America.

So just what does the NFL want heading into this unofficial ‘second phase’ of international expansion? The simple answer to that question is a potential franchise in London. However, one suspects the move to not be as easy a sell as was the previous expansions of the mid to late 90’s. For example, does the NFL intend to create a new franchise, creating potential havoc with current scheduling, or do they intend to relocate an existing team, which would of course still create a number of issues? Reading between the lines the most likely team to make the move would be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who as previously mentioned, play one home game per year in London. Additionally, Shahid Khan, Jacksonville’s owner, came within a whisker of purchasing Wembley in 2018, only for the deal to fall through due to the English Football Association (the current owner), succumbing to public pressure not to sell. For all of Mr. Khan’s denials of moving the team from Florida, and read of that what you will, in reality the move by the NFL to invest in Tottenham stadium likely showed his hand far earlier than he would have initially wanted.

Yet, for all of the hyperbole surrounding a potential move, one would imagine the NFL would likely want more time, and games, to see how the UK continues to respond to the sport, before moving an existing franchise away from the US. One reason for this is the inevitable domestic backlash that such a groundbreaking move would undoubtedly have. Yes Jacksonville rarely sells out when playing in Florida, but the image of the league will likely suffer in the short term, at least in the States. We could also see games in Brazil, South Korea and Germany before any franchise is moved to London, with said markets perceived to be even stronger than that of the UK with regards to game day viewership, as well as the sale of team merchandise. Nevertheless, in one of our previous articles, the ‘Robert Kraft’ dilemma, we outlined several issues both the league and sport currently face. Yet one thing is clear — the game outside of North America has never been stronger, and a team being based outside of the US is now almost inevitable. Subsequently, with all things being considered, not only do we believe the Jaguars will move to London by 2024, but each team will play one game outside of the US each season by 2030 as well. J

2019 NFL schedule: locks and shocks

The NFL Schedule will be released at 8PM ET (or 1am here in the UK) on the 17th/18th April. Here we take a look at what is almost always guaranteed and how the schedule organizers might spring a surprise.

Lock: Cowboys vs Giants on SNF

The NFL stunned the football world a year ago when they didn’t schedule Dallas against New York for Week 1 Sunday Night Football, opting for Week 2 instead. The NFL loves to have two of its biggest markets in the spotlight even when they’re both terrible. So even though the Giants are expected to be one of, if not the worst team in the NFL this season, expect them to host Dallas early this autumn.

Shock: more of the Jets

Speaking of New York and prime time games, don’t be surprised to see the green half of the Big Apple appearing under the lights more times in 2019. The Jets had two prime time games last year; in Detroit and in Baker Mayfield’s debut in Cleveland. Whilst they probably won’t threaten the playoffs, offseason acquisitions such as Le’veon Bell and CJ Mosely certainly make New York a more watchable team. Couple that with a second year QB and terrible new uniforms and they’re a dead cert for some prime time action.

Lock: Patriots have favourable bye week position

Now, I’m not suggesting that the Patriots ask the NFL to schedule their bye week between weeks 9-11, typically seen as the best time to have a bye as it is half way through the season, but four of the last five Patriots bye weeks have been in weeks 9-11. Expect nothing different in 2019.

Shock: Patriots play the Chiefs late into the season

Now many people think this is a lock for the opening Sunday Night Football (banner night for New England) as the NFL will want a marquee game to bring in a ratings boost early. However, this will certainly be a game that will have playoff implications and therefore to me seems nonsensical to have so early on the season. KC @ NE was week 1 in 2017 and week 6 in 2018, expect the two meet weeks 12-16 this time around.

Lock: one prime time game for ARI, MIA and TB

I mean, you could make an argument for the Arizona Cardinals to have more than one game under the lights simply because of the league consensus that they will draft Kyler Murray at #1, but other than that they are terrible and won’t threaten the playoffs. The Dolphins are equally terrible and just aren’t entertaining enough to be playing in prime time. Bucs games are more exciting due to their electric offense and woeful defence, but that won’t be enough to force more than a single divisional prime time game.

Shock: Baltimore and Pittsburgh meet in Week 17

For whatever reason, since the NFL introduced the rule that all Week 17 games would be divisional games, one of them has never been Baltimore vs Pittsburgh. Maybe it has been seen as too big a game for the final week with too much at stake, but these two are no longer the best in the AFC North. That title now belongs to the Browns, so it would be fun to see these two battle it out for the AFC’s sixth seed on the final day. Will it happen? Probably not, but it’d still be fun. B

2019 NFL Draft predictions

The 2019 NFL draft is fast approaching. Here are 5 bold predictions based on team needs, projected trades and multiple college pro day performances.

The 2019 NFL draft will be held in Nashville

1. Ed Oliver > Quinnen Williams

The 2019 NFL combine confirmed one thing — Quinnen Williams will be a superstar once drafted. Although the former Alabama DT declined to participate in several combine events, he would run a 4.83 in the 40 yard dash. To put that in perspective one has to understand just how much he weighs, and at over 300 pounds he is a monster. In fact only 3 men at that size have ever run quicker, and as his tape shows he is as dominant a tackle as you will find in any draft. However, with all future draft prospects there are concerns — he lacks length, and at times can be relatively ineffective against the run when double teamed. Another DT who absolutely dominated his college pro day was Ed Oliver. Like Williams he lacks length, and was largely overlooked by the media due to an injury sustained at the end of the 2018 College Football season. However, GM’s across the league know just how explosive he was whilst playing for the University of Houston, with many analysts comparing him to Aaron Donald. Although both are sure fire hits and are expected to be drafted early, we suspect a team will take Oliver ahead of Williams to provide the first shock of the evening.

2. Dwayne Haskins falls to the Dolphins

Dwayne Haskins

The Cardinals, Redskins and Giants are just three teams looking to reload at QB. With the Cardinals widely expected to draft Kyler Murray with the 1st overall pick, this likely leaves Josh Rosen looking for a new home. We expect the Redskins to be the team most likely to swoop in, with the Cardinals prepared to ship him by exchanging the 33rd overall pick for the 15th, and for one of Washington’s third rounders as well. The Giants on the other hand have shown very little interest (at least publicly), in drafting the successor to Eli Manning. Most draft analysts have them taking Dwayne Haskins at 6, but we believe his future to be in South Florida. Miami are desperately in need of a franchise QB, and will offer the Giants a future second to swap first round picks. The ‘G-Men’ might well be passing on the most complete pocket passer in this years draft, but they will do so in the hope of having a shot at Tua next year.

3. The Raiders trade back

If you’re a Raider fan the last 2 years must have felt like a nightmare. First, the team announced it was moving to Las Vegas, and followed that by rehiring Jon Gruden on a 10 year contract. His first move? To trade the most explosive player in the NFL — Khalil Mack, to the Bears. Later, he would trade Amari Cooper to the Cowboys, and then hire his best pal and former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, to be his GM. Yet fear not Raider fans, after what appeared to be a bunch of bone headed moves, there appears to be a plan after all. After trading a 3rd and 5th rounder for Antonio Brown, and securing the services of Tom Brady’s former blindside in Trent Brown, the Raiders will likely use all three first round draft picks on elite level talent. Expect them to offload the 4th overall pick to gain a late first rounder and two threes, especially if Arizona fail to take Murray where teams will be desperate to move up. Consequently, we believe they will make a run for Montez Sweat, Devin White and Noah Fant, three players that could transform the Raiders into a playoff contender in their final season at the County Coliseum. However, if the Cardinals trade down, don’t rule out a move for Kyler Murray if they can ship Carr to either the Dolphins or Redskins.

4. The Packers draft the next Rob Gronkowski

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson

Aaron Rodgers needs help. Not often something you hear regarding arguably the most gifted QB of all time. Nevertheless, with the departure of Randall Cobb to Dallas, and with Jimmy Graham struggling to justify the 3 year deal he signed last year, expect Green Bay to go all out for some offensive firepower to compliment stud receiver Davante Adams. Enter T.J. Hockenson. The Iowa Hawkeye TE could very well be the closest thing the league has seen to Rob Gronkoswki. A great run blocker, and elusive route runner, Hockenson has every tool to become Rodgers’ safety blanket for the next 5 years, something he hasn’t had since Jordy Nelson. Although comparisons to ‘Gronk’ may be a little premature and indeed unfair, he has the potential to be the most dominant TE in the league, and Green Bay would be an excellent fit.

5. New England draft offensive fire power

Irv Smith Jr.

Although impossible to predict, we fully expect at least one organisation to be dumb enough to give the Patriots both a second and third rounder in exchange for the 32nd overall pick. Even harder to predict is how Bill Belichick would plan to use three potential second rounders. Last year he took an OT and RB in the first round, something he has done only a handful of times in 20 years as the Patriots de facto GM. Could he move up to draft a QB? Sure. But post Jimmy Garoppolo gate (if it was ever real to begin with), something tells us he is going to ride it out with Tom Brady, but to do this they need an injection of talent at several offensive skill positions. Traditionally, older QB’s are given help from the inside out to negate having to throw the ball 40 times per game. Its something we have seen with the Saints in recent years, and with the addition of Sony Michel it worked a treat for New England last season. However, with Rob Gronkowski retiring, the Patriots will become more predictable during the pre-snap. Our final prediction? In a bid to secure their 7th Super Bowl, Bill Belichick will use three second to third rounders on offensive weapons in the form of Irv Smith Jr., Riley Ridley and Jace Sternberger. J

2019 Free Agency

With the first and second waves of free agency (mostly) over, all 32 teams across the league appear to have survived the annual trolly dash that will inevitably lead to relative league wide mediocrity. However, whilst one team stands out as having benefited the most from said free agency; here we take a look at who has improved over the last couple of weeks and who continues to struggle heading into the draft.

Winners

Cleveland Browns

Star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. heads to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade

0-16 feels like a long time ago now. The Browns turned the NFL on its head when they bagged Odell Beckham Jr., bringing a generational star wide receiver back to the AFC North just as another departed. The trade means that Cleveland won’t be on the clock until the 49th pick in April; a stark change for a franchise that seemingly always has a top 5 pick. Whilst the trade for Beckham Jr. will get all the headlines, don’t underestimate the other moves made by the Browns. Kareem Hunt is a steal, and look for 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson and former 3rd round pick Olivier Vernon to strengthen a potentially lethal defensive line. Whilst they may still be behind the Pats and the Chiefs, the Browns are loaded, and might just be the 3rd best team in the AFC; something that was unthinkable for the Dawg Pound before John Dorsey took the reins in 2017.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans narrowly missed out on consecutive playoff appearance seasons (9-7), but their additions in free agency certainly show they intend to get back to their first Super Bowl in 20 years. Many people will disagree, but the trade for Ryan Tannehill might well be Tennessee’s most important move with Marcus Mariota fast becoming the NFL’s equivalent of Mickey Mantle (injuries not talent). Whilst Tannehill won’t light up the scoreboard in Nashville, he is a better option at the backup QB position when compared to Blaine Gabbert, and could propel this Titans team into the 10-11 win bracket when called upon. And how about stealing Adam Humphries from under the noses of the defending champs? Humphries will fill a huge need at a team crying out for a wide receiver. Nevertheless, one potential roadblock for Tennessee could be what is now looking like a loaded AFC South. Time will indeed reveal all as to whether Tennessee can challenge in 2019, but their free agency additions certainly have done them no harm.

Oakland Raiders

There may not be a plan in Oakland, but expect them to be fun to watch

Whenever a team acquires arguably one of the league’s best players for just a third and fifth rounder, they are onto a winner. Whilst the trade for Antonio Brown in itself was not surprising, the value (or lack of) that Oakland had to give up to acquire him was. It gave the impression the Steelers were so desperate to ship Brown they were willing to trade him anywhere outside of New England, including a fellow AFC powerhouse franchise for peanuts. Unbelievably the Raiders are still sitting pretty with three first round picks in the upcoming draft. Brown wasn’t the only big name to head to the Bay Area, though. Super Bowl winning offensive linesmen Trent Brown will offer Derek Carr some much needed protection (the Raiders were 27th in sacks allowed in 2018), whilst LaMarcus Joyner (formerly of the NFC Champion L.A Rams), and Vontaze Burfict (who has had multiple run ins with Antonio Brown), will certainly sure up Oakland’s sieve like defense. All in all, expect the Raiders final season in Oakland to be considerably better.

Losers

New York Giants

Yikes. The free agency period went about as badly as you could imagine for the G-Men. Along with Jabrill Peppers and two draft picks, the Browns seemed to have also sent the accolade of ‘basement team’ to the Giants. For a team that doesn’t score an awful lot (23.1 PPG in 2018), trading your star receiver isn’t going to help. The 2019 Giants offense will consist of Saquon Barkley and… not a lot else. Not a lot includes the signing of Golden Tate (now 31 years old) to a 4 year, $37.5m deal, but his best days are behind him, and worryingly for New York, Tate will be the best wideout on their roster. Additionally, the departure of Landon Collins for the division rival Redskins leaves a big hole in the safety position on an already flaky defence that gave up 25.8 PPG in 2018. The positives are hard to find for fans of the Giants, aside from the fact they could draft the successor to Eli Manning in April. Bold prediction: the Giants will hold the first overall pick in 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs

No, this is not me saying this because I am Chiefs fan, but I genuinely cannot see how the Chiefs have improved during free agency. Providing Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense light it up again in 2019, the Chiefs are a reliable defense away from winning a championship. KC ranked #31 in total defense in 2018, and Andy Reid literally gave away their best defensive players in the form of its league leading pass rush duo of Dee Ford and Justin Houston, and its defensive leader and fan favourite Eric Berry. Whilst these departures freed up a lot of cap space, the most recognizable name on the Chiefs defense is Tyrann Mathieu; who has a lot to prove going into to the 2019 season. The problem for the Chiefs is they are in win now territory; after all they were a coin toss away from a first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years last season. In an offseason where the defence just needs to be improved from the league’s worst to an improved status of simply ‘mediocre’, they will once again be exposed when it most matters, unless they have one hell of a draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers will look a lot different next season. No Brown. No Bell. Simply put, Pittsburgh has imploded ever since the end of the 2017 season and that implosion carried on throughout 2018 and free agency. Letting Jesse James leave is a strange move, but it has ultimately been overshadowed by the departures of the double B’s. James would be a starting TE on most teams and now leaves a Pittsburgh offense looking remarkably thin. Sure they still have Big Ben, Juju Smith-Schuster and breakout RB James Conner, but does their offensive firepower really compare to the Browns? Probably not. Consequently, Pittsburgh’s season will be heavily influenced by the performance of their division rivals in Baltimore and Cleveland, but it is very difficult to see whether the Steelers are any better than third best in the AFC North at present. Certainly worrying times for fans in the Steel City. B

Gronked

The Greatest TE in modern NFL history calls time on his career

The ‘Gronk spike’ will be sorely missed in NE

Alas the rumours were true. After 9 seasons in the league Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from professional football via his official Instagram account today. A giant of the game (quite literally), ‘Gronk’, as he came to be known; was unquestionably one of the most dominant skill position players in modern NFL history. Although plagued by injuries, the former second round draft pick would go on to break single season season records in both total yards (1,327) and touchdowns (17) in just his second season as an NFL starter, whilst hoisting the Lombardi trophy on three occasions. Often targeted by Tom Brady in critical moments, Gronkowski will undoubtedly leave a huge void in the Patriots locker room; one that Bill Belichick will likely have to address in the upcoming draft. In truth it may take multiple players to replace him, as there are only a handful of college TE’s that have demonstrated the ability to be able to create separation in the pass game as well as run block when required. Nevertheless, we at Benny Given Sunday are not only going to miss his ability to regularly maul linebackers/safeties, but we will miss his goofy, often childish like spirit as well. Happy retirement Gronk, you more than earned it. J

The ‘Robert Kraft’ dilemma

The NFL may have an image problem

Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

When analysing the high profile cases of Aaron Hernandez, Jim Irsay, Ray Rice and the accusation of league wide collusion against Colin Kaepernick after the national anthem protest controversy, one could argue the NFL is no longer viewed as it once was. Said examples, coupled with the number of former players coming forward to claim damages under the NFL’s concussion settlement, have unquestionably hurt ‘America’s Game’, and brought the league into disrepute (at least in the eyes of the casual fan). Although the NFL has made a habit of surviving controversy it has done so without it ever effecting the league’s bottom line. Though viewing figures recovered in 2018, they were at a historical low in 2017 , and it is the NBA, not the NFL, that is the fastest growing professional sports league in North America; with the former projected to surpass the latter in revenue by 2029 (fortune.com).

But are said controversies really to blame?

Sharing is caring, or words to that effect. Yet in the NFL, which operates a hard cap, players are rarely able to achieve the goals that are set in their heavily incentivised contracts. Because of this, and the growing perception of the sport being too violent (high profile figures such as Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre have all been vocal in not allowing their kids to play football), those chasing guaranteed dollars are rarely criticised for lacking ambition, or indeed loyalty by both the fans and media alike. After all, why put you or your child’s body through such punishment in the hope of playing for an annual salary of just $860,000 for 3.3 years (the NFL’s median salary in 2018 and league career average respectively), when Boston University found evidence of CTE in 99% of former NFL Players? The short answer is……..you wouldn’t. If you were chasing future sports stardom both the NBA and MLB are more attractive propositions and far better positioned to appeal to kids and their families for all of the above reasons.

Then there is the issue of cultural perception, race and representation. The fallout from the national anthem protests and the ensuing legal fight between Kaepernick and the NFL not only divided the football community, but America as a whole. Consequently, the league has come to mirror the current administration in the hearts and minds of so many, and said fallout has unquestionably hurt the NFL attract, and indeed retain, the type of fan who is perceived to be ‘socially conscious’ and against Trump’s presidency. Indeed, outside of middle America the symbolic nature of the sport as it relates to representing America is still very much of the ‘Friday Night Lights’ variety and a far cry from reality. In 2014 players from Black, Asian/Pacific Islander and non-white Hispanic communities accounted for 72% of all active roster spots, and that figure is unlikely to have changed in 2019. Yet does this figure reflect the number of non-white coaches, general managers and owners? Unfortunately, we all know the answer to that particular question; with the latter acting as a perfect segue to the looming problem of one Robert K. Kraft.

Traumatic brain injury, domestic violence and racial inequality? Yes. But prostitution and human trafficking are two terms the NFL has yet had the pleasure of being associated with. Nevertheless, on the 22nd February one of the more bizarre and shocking stories was about to emerge; the much loved owner of the most successful NFL franchise in recent memory was to face misdemenour charges for ‘soliciting another to commit prostitution’, a charge that stemmed from a human trafficking investigation in South Florida. This from a man known for his class and vast acts of kindness; reflected in his charity work, and campaign for social justice reform in recent months, is not what Jocelyn Moore, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of communications and public affairs, was employed to tackle. Amidst facing the type of high profile issues mentioned in this article the league is likely to come down hard on Mr. Kraft (no pun intended). After all, Roger Goodell is no stranger to punishing the Boston native, fining the Patriots and stripping them of draft picks for their role in 2007’s ‘spy gate’ scandal, and later fighting them all the way to court to uphold Tom Brady’s ban for his perceived role in 2014’s ‘deflate gate’ controversy.

So just what will the NFL do with Mr.Kraft to appease public opinion and help restore trust? He will almost certainly face a lengthy ban and fine. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was banned for six games and fined $500,000 in 2014 when he plead guilty to driving whilst intoxicated. Thus, expect at the very least, the same punishment, though in reality the NFL are likely to be far less forgiving; irrespective of whether Mr. Kraft is found guilty in a court of law. One question that has to be asked is whether he will be forced into selling the Patriots. The NBA was commended for forcing Donald Sterling into selling the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for making racist comments, and the NFL similarly ‘guided’ former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson into selling the franchise when allegations of sexual misconduct at the work place surfaced in 2017. However, as much as the NFL would love to force Mr. Kraft out of the league to gain much needed moral cachet, it is unlikely to do so due to his case coming under the leagues’s Personal Conduct Policy. In reality, expect a season long ban, a record fine and the Patriots to be stripped of opening the NFL season on Thursday Night Football. J