$.01-- Colin Kaepernick

The NFL and Colin Kaepernick reached an out-of-court settlement that ends his pending collusion case against the league for his inability to get signed with any of their 32 franchises. The parties released a joint statement announcing the resolution, but did not disclose any details of the terms of the settlement. 

Rumors have hinted at a settlement in the $60 million to $80 million range, though those are unconfirmed. That is the price for the league to avoid being deposed in court and having to reveal any internal discussions, and/or to try and justify why Kaepernick could not get a sniff while several teams trotted out demonstrably inferior QBs over and over again.

My initial reaction is that any settlement by the NFL is a win for the NFL. Not having to testify is important, but the settlement also takes away any potential sting of losing. While Kaepernick’s case proving an active league-wide black-balling would be terribly tough to prove beyond a doubt, the court of public opinion was almost assuredly going to swing far in his direction. Surely that’s worth $80M, or $2.5M per team.

Do I believe there was a league-wide collusion to actively keep Kaepernick out of the NFL since he began kneeling during the national anthem? No, I don’t. But I absolutely believe several teams deliberately refused to even consider signing the quarterback despite having no football justification for keeping him away. 

Take the 2017 Houston Texans, a team I covered. That team bailed on Tom Savage halfway through the opener, inserting Deshaun Watson. The rookie was great and played a style more fitting to Kaepernick’s, making plays beyond the initial call and using athleticism and chutzpah to make something out of nothing. When Watson got hurt, Kaepernick even flew to Houston to work out at a private facility, showing (theoretically) he was ready and willing to at least tryout.

Instead, the late Bob McNair’s Texans went back to Savage, then T.J. Yates and even Taylor Heinicke as their season circled the spiral of death with injuries and inadequate OL play. Anyone who argues that any of those QBs is a more viable NFL player than Kaepernick is ignoring both the eye test and a field sobriety test.

While Kaepernick did cool off from his tremendous 2012-13 run with the 49ers, he still offered some much more than the troika of ineptitude in Houston, or the hapless Browns of DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler (another team I covered). Anyone who can complete 60 percent of his passes with a 16/4 TD-to-INT ratio -- Kaepernick’s stats with the ‘16 49ers -- must be regarded as at least worthy of being an NFL backup.

The question now is whether Kaepernick will play again? He’s 31 and just pocketed tens of millions of dollars without sacrificing too much of his social justice capital. I see the likes of Matt Cassel, A.J. McCarron and Brett Hundley, all decidedly dead ends, get legit run as backups in 2018 and can’t justify a team like the Seahawks or Bills (both with mobile runners at starting QB) not at least calling him. 

There is risk for Kaepernick to try, however. If he comes back and isn’t good, the definition of which will vary widely depending on your particular view of Kaepernick himself and his controversial decision to kneel, he validates the numerous critics who claimed there was no collusion because he simply wasn’t good enough to play. Given the current political climate and opinion masquerading as gospel, that’s a risk he might not want to take.

$.02--Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt is now a member of the Cleveland Browns. The running back joins his hometown team amidst controversy, signaling a real gamble by Browns GM John Dorsey to take a swing at a talented but troubled player.

Hunt, of course, remains on the commissioner’s exempt list while the NFL figures out some measure of discipline for Hunt’s unsavory actions. The most notorious of those was a video from a Cleveland hotel where he pushed and kicked a woman, which led to the Kansas City Chiefs cutting Hunt shortly into his second NFL season.

Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie for the Chiefs, a shocking development for a 3rd round pick from Toledo who struggled with weight issues during his Rockets career. With his quick feet and exceptional balance, Hunt ran with a style that boasts both consistency and longevity. But the off-field curtailed the availability.

Cleveland is taking an extraordinary, and perhaps needless, gamble on him. The team already has a dynamic young runner in Nick Chubb, who briefly passed 1,000 yards in his rookie season before his final carry brought him back under. Chubb has better speed and size than Hunt. The Browns also have Duke Johnson, curiously underutilized despite being a tremendous receiver and elusive on the edges. Even Dontrell Hilliard showed some ability as an undrafted rookie. 

Then there is the prickly off-field. Hunt was involved in another offseason incident at Put-in-Bay, a party island in Lake Erie. The assault captured on video and that resort fracas both involved several people in Hunt’s party. None of them thought to stop him from potentially ruining himself, but now the Browns have immersed him back with that peer group that isn’t helping Hunt. Sometimes returning home is a good thing to help young men straighten out their lives. In Hunt’s case, I would argue it’s the worst possible destination for him to land. 

If he can stay out of trouble during the as-yet-undetermined NFL suspension (educated guess says it’s 10 games), Hunt gets whatever is left of the season to show he’s worth keeping. Perhaps the biggest boon for the Browns is getting control of Hunt for 2020, when he’ll be a restricted free agent and a potential bargain. Dorsey had better hope he’s worth it.

$.03--Joe Flacco

The Joe Flacco era with the Baltimore Ravens is over. The Ravens are trading their longtime starting QB to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick once transactions involving players under contract are permitted in mid-March.

I understand the Ravens angle on it. Lamar Jackson is the future, and he showed enough in his rookie campaign to make that future the present, too. Dumping Flacco and his outrageous contract is a brilliant move for a Baltimore organization in transition but still maintaining playoff-level competitiveness. 

It’s the Denver side of the transaction that I just don’t grasp. Or as my Broncos-fan friend Jerry said, “John Elway, what the hell?!”

One year of overpaying for Case Keenum’s utter mediocrity, where Elway bought high after Keenum finally had a year where he was at least average, the Hall of Fame Broncos icon goes out and buys another veteran whose ceiling is being the 16th-best QB in the NFL. And Flacco hasn’t touched that ceiling in a few years. Now he’s 34 and coming off hip and back problems, still owed $66M over the next three years, and gets to play behind an offensive line that isn’t nearly as good as the one that struggled to protect his completely immobile self upright in Baltimore. 

In basketball terms, this isn’t signing Juwan Howard to a $100M deal for an average 6th man. This is trading to pick up the bulk of that contract and expecting Howard to be the difference-maker on a championship contender wannabe. Ask Isiah Thomas, another legendary player but legendarily dreadful personnel manager, about making moves like that…

In theory, getting Flacco back into Gary Kubiak’s Flacco-friendly (read: basic) offense and trusting him with some confidence makes some level of sense. But the Broncos are not just an average QB away from running with the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC West. It’s going to take a lot of magic Elway simply has not shown as a GM to make this move work and get Denver back into being a perennial playoff team.

$.04--Antonio Brown

Flacco might not be the only veteran stalwart on the way out of the AFC North. All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is efforting his damndest to force a divorce from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 31-year-old is due $60M over the next three years, and it’s nearly impossible for the Steelers--or any team dealing for Brown--to get out of his deal for less than $40M over the next two. That’s a major cap hit for a player who probably isn’t going to be any better than he has been in Pittsburgh.

Of course, no receiver can definitively claim to be better than what Brown has been over the last six seasons. He’s a lethal combination of speed, strength, testicular fortitude and sizzle. Even in a “down” 2018 he still caught over 100 passes and led the NFL with 15 TD receptions. He has at least 100 catches and 1,284 yards in every season since 2013. Alas, he’s lost his way with the Steelers organization, feuding with Ben Roethlisberger and missing the ‘18 finale after skipping practices. He’s had some brushes with the law and erratic behavior that includes poking the Pittsburgh bear on social media repeatedly. 

Brown has half-heartedly walked back some of the animosity, but he still thanked Steelers fans for their support in a move normally performed after a trade. What team will offer the Steelers a 2nd or 3rd-round pick (the purported asking price) to take on Brown’s considerable talent but consequential questions? 

The best early guesses are WR-needy contenders with cap room. That would feature the Colts and Seahawks, with the 49ers a trendy choice if they can get everyone healthy, too. Tennessee and Green Bay also make sense, though Brown would soak up more than half their available cap room and represent a stark change of course for two of the most conservative organizations in the league. 

A return to Pittsburgh can’t be ruled out either, despite Brown’s best efforts to get exiled elsewhere. They’re not the same caliber of contender without him, and the window with Roethlisberger is closing quickly.

$.05--Draft scuttlebutt 

--Now that Kyler Murray has declared his intentions to shun baseball and stick to football, it seems more likely the Oklahoma quarterback will be selected in the first half of the first round. Several contemporary mock drafts project Murray in the top 5 and as the first QB off the board, but I’m not ready to make that leap yet. His interview process at the Combine in less than two weeks will be huge for Murray. He must convince potential employers he is 100% dedicated to football and the NFL style of play, which is divergent (in some cases extremely so) from how he played for the Sooners. I will have a pre-Combine mock draft and Murray will be the 2nd QB projected, but that’s still subject to radical modification.

--Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons, a likely top-20 overall pick, tore his ACL in training. This unfortunate injury throws his rookie year into serious doubt, and now we’re all trying to ascertain how much that impacts his draft status. Simmons was already out of the Combine due to an assault arrest earlier in his adult life, another flag that must be accounted for. I still see Simmons being drafted in the 33-45 overall range as long as he satisfactorily mollifies the character worries.

--The NCAA’s all-time sack leader is Jaylon Ferguson, who broke Terrell Suggs’ mark in Louisiana Tech’s last game. Ferguson is a likely top-100 prospect, but he won’t be performing at the Combine, either.

Ferguson had his invitation withdrawn after the Combine organizers decided a misdemeanor simple battery charge before he ever played a down of college football was serious enough to keep him out. Never mind that Ferguson has stayed out of trouble for four years since. Never mind they allowed folks guiltier of far more insidious and serious immature nefariousness have been venerated in Indianapolis on a yearly basis. Never mind the above context of Kareem Hunt signing a fresh deal. 

The NFL’s seemingly random, reactionary and ridiculously loose application of discipline remains a major issue. Ferguson is unfortunately caught in the crossfire. At least they’ve now decided he can have the medical examinations in Indy, which is the primary reason the Combine exists at all. 

--I’m done evaluating about half the players I will rank in 2019. Currently I have enough notes and opinion formed on 172 prospects. Here are 3 I like more than the general consensus and 3 I’m not as high on as most of the draft media: 

Three Draft Prospects I’m high On

- Washington CB Byron Murphy. For my money, he’s the best and most versatile cover man in this draft. High floor and high ceiling, eminently worthy of a top-10 choice. Would love him to land in Detroit with my Lions at No. 8 overall.

- Marshall WR Tyre Brady. If he played at Oklahoma or Clemson, the nifty Brady would be hyped as a great No. 2 receiving prospect for a team with a good No. 1. He’s still going to be that guy, but with a lot less fanfare because he played with underwhelming QBs in 2018. Top 100 player and a definite top 6-8 WR on my board in a deep class I like a lot after a shallow top.

FAU RB Devin Singletary. One-word scouting report: juice. Singletary’s got a lot of it. He’s going to be a better NFL runner than several of the RBs who will be drafted before him in April. Day 2 talent in my book.

Three Draft Prospects I’m low On

- LSU CB Greedy Williams. Good playmaker with outstanding length, but there are a lot of missed assignments and guesses on his tape. He might wind up being special, but he’s got the highest “bust” factor of any of the top CBs. Will not be a top 30 overall prospect on my board.

- Duke QB Daniel Jones. I have no idea why any NFL team would spend more than a 6th round pick on Jones, who sure appears to be Matt Cassel 2.0 but with a slightly lesser arm. I just don’t see Jones ever being more than a solid No. 2 who might not lose a season for a good team around him if he has to play a couple of games. Davis Webb was a better prospect.

Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry. Supersized wideouts are invariably fluffed by fans and segments of the draft media. Don’t be that guy. Harry has a lot to like, but always remember: when all of a receiver’s highlights are making contested catches, there’s a reason those catches are contested. Getting open reliably is far more important in today’s NFL, and Harry only does that on an average level for his considerable size. Good player, not a top 20 pick for me.