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The current state of the NFL raises questions about Kaepernick, Vegas and the Browns

A successful Browns team would be good for the NFL, Colin Kaepernick can’t find work, and some other pertinent thoughts.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Any sports league in the world is better when underdogs succeed. This was never more evident than last year, when the Leicester City Football Club claimed its first top-level soccer championship by winning England’s Premier League. It was one of the most monumental sporting triumphs ever.

Entering the 2015-16 season, oddsmakers gave Leicester City 5000/1 odds to win the cup. A $50 bet on Leicester City would’ve yielded a payout large enough to send your kid to law school.

Maybe the Cleveland Browns should feel optimistic about their 300/1 odds to win Super Bowl 52.

Since returning to the NFL as an “expansion franchise” in 1999, the Browns have exemplified awful, posting an abysmal 88-200-0 record.

The narrative never changes. “Maybe next year” has become the de facto motto of a franchise that used to be a perennial contender. While the Indians and Cavaliers have firmly entrenched themselves as winning franchises, the Browns have remained, well, the Browns.

This offseason, however, seems different. The Browns have stockpiled a plethora of draft picks, including this year’s No. 1 and No. 12 selection, through a series of prudent transactions and armed themselves with over $60 million in cap space, much of which they can carry over to the 2018 season. Cleveland solidified its offensive line, added a young defensive centerpiece in Jamie Collins and acquired a second-round draft pick by merely agreeing to bite the bullet on Brock Osweiler’s massive contract. At worst, the Browns are a better team right now than they were six months ago.

For the first time in forever (and this truly is forever for me, as I can’t recall Cleveland ever having a competent coach at any point in my lifetime), the Browns seem to possess a coaching staff and front office with a sense of direction. Head coach Hue Jackson would obviously prefer to avoid another 1-15 season, but he, along with his fellow front office members, understands that Cleveland is building to compete in the next decade. It takes time to reinvent and reestablish a new culture.

Continuing to build for the future is a safe move—arguably too safe, at this point—but Jackson has confirmed that the Browns will retain the first pick in the draft, presumably to select star pass rusher Myles Garrett, who some scouts have likened to All-Pro Von Miller. While the Miller comparison is fitting, so, too, is one to former Penn State end Courtney Brown, who Cleveland selected with their first pick in the 2000 NFL Draft (in Brown’s defense, he had a productive rookie campaign before suffering an injury in his second season; he was never the same). Regardless of how Garrett’s career turns out, it is encouraging to see Cleveland roll the dice on a guy who could become the face of their franchise, rather than continuing to stockpile picks.

Call it overzealous optimism, but I like what Cleveland is building. The NFL could use a nice rags-to-riches success story.

The Colin Kaepernick scenario

As of writing, Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed, and nobody is totally sure why, though his decline in play and “distractions” seem to be the two most popular theories.

To address the former theory: was he really that bad in 2016? He was 1-10 as a starter, yes, but the 49ers, like most NFL teams, rely on more than a single player to win games.

Statistics, especially when considered in a vacuum, can be misleading, but humor me by considering Kaepernick’s: ~60 percent completion percentage, 90.7 rating, 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and 468 rushing yards. None of these figures are particularly awesome, but Kaepernick certainly wasn’t that bad, especially for a dude who will likely be seeking a back-up gig. According to ESPN’s QBR metric, Kaepernick was wholly average. Although Kaepernick wasn’t strapping the 49ers to his back and single-handedly winning games, he definitely wasn't the sole contributor to their troubles. That’s a lot more than many quarterbacks, including starters, in this league can claim.

As far as the “distractions” go, I mean, come on. That is one of the biggest cop-outs in sports. Regardless of your personal opinion about Kaepernick’s protests (this is the internet, I am not here to debate your views), you can’t deny that dudes who were objectively bigger distractions got second and third chances. While Kaepernick isn’t as transcendent as Michael Vick, he is arguably a better professional quarterback (not football player, just quarterback) than Vick was at age 29. And Kaepernick has spent precisely zero days behind the bars in a federal prison.

My honest to goodness guess is that both theories are applicable to Kaepernick. An average quarterback apparently isn’t worth the public relations headache, which unfortunately says a lot about the state of the league.

The Las Vegas Raiders

League owners voted Monday to confirm the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas. The vote passed 31-1, with Miami’s Stephen Ross representing the lone holdout. In his dissent, Ross remarked that teams “owe it to the fans” to remain in their home cities until “all other options have been exhausted.”

Three NFL franchises—the Raiders, the Chargers, and the Rams—have all relocated within the past 14 months, which means that three major cities are now without teams that their fans and communities have supported for many years.

Fans remained steadfast in their love of the Raiders, even over the course of Oakland’s decade-long rebuilding period that was strangely parabolic, beginning with Rich Gannon, hitting rock bottom with JaMarcus Russell, and topping out once again with Derek Carr. Send love to those fans, as God knows they deserve it.

Then again, seeing Marshawn Lynch come out of retirement to sign a contract with the Las Vegas Raiders would likely reduce me to happy tears.

Some brief thoughts that don’t deserve an entire paragraph

  • According to this poll...

...the majority of Eagles fans would rather have Carson Wentz on their team than Aaron Rodgers. I would expect nothing less from the City of The Process.

  • Joe Mixon is going to prove my point about talent outweighing character issues. I will be SHOCKED if this dude falls past the fourth round of the draft.
  • The only quarterback situation stranger than Kaeperick’s is the ongoing Tony Romo saga. Look, I understand that the NFL is a business, but at a certain point you kind of have to just do right by a guy and lead him to greener pastures. Romo’s departure is inevitable because a) keeping him on the roster will incur like a $25 million cap hit, which is insane, and b) keeping him is going to negatively impact Dak Prescott’s development. While the notion of keeping the old, beloved veteran around to serve as Prescott’s Apollo Creed is undeniably romantic, it isn’t difficult to imagine that having a Pro Bowl back-up quarterback breathing down his neck would shake Prescott’s tree. Tony Romo is a peacock, and Dallas must let him fly.
  • Mike Tomlin neither confirmed nor denied if Pittsburgh had any interest in Darrelle Revis... So you’re saying there’s a chance?! (Probably not).