Do a new owner and player alter the Carolina Panthers’ chemistry?

Do a new owner and player alter the Carolina Panthers’ chemistry?

Even though we’ve moved on from the atomic to the information age, we all have a basic understanding of atoms. There are three components. Protons and neutrons cuddle together in the nucleus. Electrons buzz around on the outside. In simple terms, and NFL team can be likened to an atom.

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Think of the stadium as the nucleus. The various non-playing personnel, such as trainers, marketers, and maintenance staff are the neutrons. They perform essential tasks that keep the team functioning. Although there is turnover in the ranks, it’s an anonymous group that is easily interchangeable. Owners, GMs and coaches are the protons. Their collective energy is directed inward. Owners finance the team. GMs recruit players and coaches. The coaches organise and direct the players. The players’ energy is directed out. They buzz around the perimeter competing with other teams, driving away other electrons. As such, they are the most vulnerable. Their careers tend to be the shortest unless the coach is ineffective.

As well, there is magnetism to consider. Neutrons are neutral. Protons are positive. Electrons are negative. Neutrality equates to anonymity, rendering a football team’s support staff irrelevant to this conversation. Owners, as protons, are positive solely in the context of the team’s existence. Until they decide to sell, they are wholly committed to the nucleus, investing their money and influence to improve the team’s value. Players are negative in two ways. They buy into the team concept on the field, allowing positive and negative to attract, but their primary interest is in furthering their own careers, supporting their families, improving their own lives. Unlike a real electron, they can resist the magnetism to walk away at any time.

In terms of labor relations, two observations can be made:

  1. Owner/protons and player/electrons are polarised opposites whose attraction remains at a distinct distance.
  2. It’s little surprise that fans [permanently vested in their team’s welfare] side with the owners who share that interest over the players, who [like them] are ordinary working stiffs.

At the moment, the NFL comprises 32 atoms. One is the Carolina Panthers. It’s been a busy offseason in Charlotte. It’s main proton, owner Jerry Richardson, cuddled a little too close to some attractive neutrons and made a disparaging remark about another. The controversy forced the franchise founder to sell the team to a new proton, hedge-fund manager David Tepper.  Meanwhile, the Panthers traded electrons with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Cornerback Daryl Worley went to Philly. Receiver Torrey Smith came to Carolina.

As protons go, Tepper is a pretty big one. Forbes values his net worth at $11.4 billion. In 2012, he was the highest paid hedge fund manager in the US, collecting $2.2 billion. This year, he paid $2.275 billion for the Panthers. The man is playing with house money.

New Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper was eager to discuss the NFL anthem rule with his players.

Even though his stewardship doesn’t begin for another month, Tepper flew into Charlotte to meet with players regarding the league’s new anthem rule. No one involved is divulging what was said but North Carolina is a very pro-military state. Among others, Fort Bragg, Pope Air Force Base, and Camp LeJeune are all within a few hours drive of Bank America Stadium. When defensive end Julius Peppers remained in the dressing room during the anthem last year, Richardson personally intervened and it did not happen again. Nor has any Panther ever knelt during the Star Spangled Banner.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is notoriously liberal in his political views and fully supported his players when they were outspoken. Torrey Smith, while moderate in his approach, supports the anthem protests. Many Carolina fans may consider him a highly charged electron. He responded to those who hold the belief the movement disrespects veterans.

He followed up when accused of not seeing both sides of the issue.

They didn’t ignore the reasons why folks thought it was disrespectful but they told you what their intentions were. Folks are ignoring why men were protesting and [that] they have facts that prove this country doesn’t treat everyone the same. One [group has] an opinion, the other has facts.

Smith was even clearer on the Panthers website.

I think when you see a reactive policy, and when I say that I mean something that’s done in response to what guys have done in the past, I always think that’s a problem, especially when the [original] message has been changed. Guys aren’t against the military. [Colin Kaepernick] originally started it against police brutality. It was never against the military, it was never about the military, but that narrative changed.

In the early going, Tepper and Smith seem to be giving each other space. The new owner hasn’t complained that the player’s views are on the official team website. The player has embraced the owner’s proactive approach.

It’s awesome that (Tepper) has come in right away and embraced the community. And keep the main thing the main thing, which is winning.

For now, it seems proton and electron can cohabit the same atom in Carolina, but if tensions rise, bet that politics will win out over chemistry and the electron will be cut loose.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.


Is the Cleveland Browns draft class new hope or another false dawn?

Is the Cleveland Browns draft class new hope or another false dawn?

What is the most wonderful thing about the offseason? No matter what happened last year, you can let your imagination off the leash.

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Life is cruel, however. The first things to go after the initial meaningful game are hopes and dreams.

Occasionally, though, the unexpected happens. Everything falls into place. Hope is fulfilled, dreams realized, and your club goes all the way. In 2017, the Houston Astros won the World Series. Three months later, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

In the latter case, a few thousand memes had to be revised to fit a new team.

If I were Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, the first person I’d call would be Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam. The Browns were winless in 2017. They’ve only won four games in the last three seasons and had just two winning seasons since their reincarnation in 1999.

Hi Jimmy? It’s Jeff. Listen I’ve got all these old Super Bowl memes lying around that we can’t use anymore…

Of course, some aren’t transferrable.

Dad, what’s a Super Bowl ring? How should I know, son? We’re brown.

That doesn’t make sense. And can a color see its shadow?

On the other hand, Ned Stark is universal. You can put Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota, whoever, in there and it works. It could be leased out to baseball, basketball, and soccer trolls, too. Haslam would see a return on his investment. The Back to the Future meme offers double value. After all, Marty McFly’s mentor is Doc Brown. It’s a natural fit.

Getting good value might be a problem for Lurie, however. The Browns already have some existing inventory.

Right now, there is optimism in the Dawg Pound. Cleveland is a .500 team again at least until Week 1. There may be reason to hold out hope. The Browns had a strong draft, landing Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward in the first round, as well as Georgia running back Nick Chubb in the second. The team also acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo, receiver Jarvis Landry from the Dolphins, and right tackle Chris Hubbard from Pittsburgh. Left tackle Joe Thomas retired but Vegas sport books have the Browns as early favorites in two games, Week 3 v the New York Jets and Week 15 when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town.

It’s encouraging to think the Browns might be competitive in 2018 but let’s not jump the gun. They’ve made exciting personnel moves in the past. Tim Couch never panned out. Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III. If anything, Baker Mayfield might deserve our sympathy. The Oklahoma quarterback has a different skill set than Griffin and more self-control than Manziel but is another unique personality. The team has already demonstrated it can’t deal with characters, preferring to cookie-cutter everyone in the squad.

Nor does the executive show patience or long-term thinking. Its five first-round picks in the 2017/18 NFL Drafts were courtesy former Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown’s draft policy. Building a club through the draft is a multi-season endeavour. It didn’t happen quickly enough for owner Jimmy Haslam. He fired Brown in December to resolve a power struggle between the executive and head coach Hue Jackson.

Cleveland Browns EVP of Football Operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson.

Brown wasn’t perfect as a GM. He took a gamble on Griffin’s injury history and lost. He traded away a second-rounder to Philadelphia that turned out to be Carson Wentz. As if the quarterback was guaranteed to enjoy the same success in Cleveland as he has in Philly.

Brown clashed with Jackson because his focus was on collecting draft picks rather than paying too much to free agents or in trades with other teams. The team is now benefitting from that policy and likely will for the next few seasons.

Like Jackson, Haslam is impatient. When he hired both Jackson and Brown in January 2016, it was his fourth franchise reboot in five years as owner. It’s easy to imagine the team struggling early, Jackson turning to Mayfield too soon in the young quarterback’s tutelage, the team struggling further, and Haslam initiating the search for a new coach before season’s end. It’s more fun to dream, however.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

Would you hand the keys to the Oakland Raiders to Jon Gruden after 10 years in the booth?

Would you hand the keys to the Oakland Raiders to Jon Gruden after 10 years in the booth?

I could write a doctoral thesis on how professional sports warn us what can happen when a democracy eschews compromise and governance for polarised idealists competing in a blatant power grab. Instead, I’ll talk about how new Oakland [soon to be Las Vegas] Raiders coach, Jon Gruden, is consolidating his power within the organisation.

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There is no room for democracy in sports. Some teams have tried with draft-by-committee policies. Others have even had co-head coaches or managers. It never works.

The most successful teams are led by one man’s vision. Bill Belichick is the most obvious contemporary example. He follows in Tom Landry and Don Shula’s shoes, not just coaching on the field but making personnel decisions, his fingerprints on every aspect of New England Patriots football.

Autocratic rule exists in all sports. Everything went through Tony LaRussa with baseball’s St Louis Cardinals. Pat Riley has long been the man with the Miami Heat. In soccer, Sir Alex Ferguson was Manchester United for a quarter-century. All the best to the retired Scot after the shocking news of his brain aneurysm.

Riley’s move up to the Heat front office shows the coach isn’t always the driving force. Sometimes it goes even higher. Owners like Jerry Jones, as well as the late George Steinbrenner and Al Davis in the Bronx and Oakland respectively, can keep their iron hands on a club’s day-to-day operations.

Mark Davis, who took over for his father in 2011, prefers to focus on the business side. Gruden is the fifth coach during his reign, succeeding Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Tony Sparano, and Jack Del Rio. Sparano coached the final 12 games in 2014 as the interim replacement for Allen.

There were five other coaches under Al Davis who followed Gruden’s original three-season tenure: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Lane Kiffin, Art Shell, and Tom Cable. Save for Shell, none were the typical “Raiders’ family” men the elder Davis had long preferred. Nor did any impress as more than a head coach.

Gruden’s original stint ended in unusual circumstances that may have colored his approach upon returning 17 years later. He didn’t quit. He wasn’t fired. Instead, after the team lost three games down the stretch in his final season, and were eliminated by the Patriots in the playoffs courtesy the notorious “Tuck Rule,” Davis traded him to Tampa Bay for two draft picks each in the first and second rounds and $8 million.

The Buccaneers had failed to recruit their top three candidates, Steve Spurrier, Bill Parcells, and Steve Mariucci, after firing Tony Dungy for his inability to win the big game. Chucky did that for them in his first season, knocking off his former Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. He wasn’t able to replicate that success in following seasons, in part because the Bucs endured salary cap and free agent issues. He was fired in 2008, after ending the season with four losses.

For the past decade, Gruden has worked in television, never ruling out a return to coaching under the right circumstances. A ten-year, $100 million contract would be the right circumstance for just about anyone. Even so, the coach took his time before accepting an offer. Mark Davis reportedly spent six years trying to convince Gruden to return.

Imagining Raiders owner negotiating Jon Gruden's 10-year $10 million contract.

Beyond money, Gruden apparently wanted control. If he was going to fail, it wouldn’t be a result of someone else’s personnel decisions. He’s been given that control.

That may be a bitter pill for GM Reggie McKenzie to accept. The former offensive lineman has been calling the shots since 2012.

Since taking charge, Gruden has made some controversial moves. He’s done little to bolster the Raiders subpar defense and has signed veterans rather than younger players in an era when the trend is for teams to draft and sign youth. Most famously, he denigrated the use of analytics in an early interview, saying he would rather throw the game “back to 1998.”

In truth, he hasn’t forsaken the use of data/dayta, as some have suggested. He is saying he wants the numbers to serve his system rather than dictate it. His early statement in the above clip, that he can’t comment on the plays he will run because he hasn’t determined his roster, is telling. He is building a team around the best players he can assemble rather than fitting them into a predetermined system.

Whatever his Raiders eventually look like, however they play, Gruden needs to show improvement early. He must justify the control he has demanded. If he doesn’t, Davis will be hard put to stand by him for longer than one or two seasons at the cost of $10 million/yr.

That is the difference between Gruden and the others. Belichick, Shula, Landry, Riley, Ferguson, they all earned their authority. It wasn’t given to them based on what they had done 16 years prior. Then again, the Raiders have always done things differently. Will that contrary attitude finally work in their favor again?

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.