DAVIE — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has moved around on his position regarding players protesting during the national anthem, and a Wall Street Journal article revealed that Donald Trump had a substantial influence on his decision to require players to stand or remain in the locker room last season.
Ross, in a sworn deposition for Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL, said Trump’s comments to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones were relayed to the rest of the ownership and changed the way he viewed players kneeling.
“I was totally supportive of (protesting players) until Trump made his statement,” Ross said in his deposition, according to the WSJ. “I thought he changed the dialogue.”
Ross also said he believed the protests were hurting the Dolphins financially.
His testimony was not a huge surprise considering Ross has occasionally mentioned Trump over the past two years and made a similar statement when the Dolphins enacted a stand-or-stay-in-the-locker-room rule last October. That came two weeks after Trump said players who kneel should be kicked out of the league and referred anyone who protests during the anthem as “a son of an (expletive).”
“It’s a different dialogue today,” Ross said before the Titans game Oct. 8. “Whenever you’re dealing with the flag, you’re dealing with something different. (Trump) has changed that whole paradigm of what protest is. I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
He added, “I really applaud those guys, but I think it’s different today from the standpoint of Trump has made it all about patriotism with the flag. I think it’s so important today, because that’s what the country’s looking at, that we look at it differently and there will be different ways of protesting or getting your cause out there by the athletes.”
That rule lasted less than a month before Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas convinced coach Adam Gase to rescind it, and the players continued kneeling the rest of the season. In his deposition, Ross indicated the decision to bar players from kneeling was his decision, not Gase’s as was conveyed at the time.
The NFL handed down a policy last week that essentially mirrored what the Dolphins attempted. Players are required to stand and “show respect” for the American flag during the anthem, remain out of sight. The league will fine organizations that have violations of the rule and allows teams to establish their own conduct guidelines as long as they’re consistent with the league’s.
When players began kneeling at the start of the 2016 season, Ross was arguably their most vocal supporter among the owners. He waited in the locker room in Seattle after the season opener to address the media and express that he stood by them.
“I don’t think it was any lack of respect,” he said. “I think everybody here on our team and this whole organization respects the flag and what it stands for and the soldiers and everything. These guys are making a conversation of something that’s a very important topic in this country, and I’m 100 percent supportive of them.
“It’s a country where you’re allowed to indicate what your preferences are and how your feelings are. That’s what makes it so great. I think it’s great and I applaud them for what they’re doing.”
Ross has supported the players’ cause in other ways through programs and scholarships locally, as well as through the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. His team also gave Stills the community service award each of the last two seasons.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was deposed Tuesday in Colin Kaepernick’s grievance against the NFL, according to a report by Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports.
Ross is the third owner deposed, following Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Texans. According to Yahoo, Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have all been deposed.
According to the report, Kaepernick’s attorneys may be interested in comments Ross made in New York that appeared to tie his stance on player kneeling to President Donald Trump. Ross later clarified some of those comments, explaining that in his opinion, kneeling is an ineffective social justice tactic, a topic he said he cares passionately about.
The Dolphins considered Kaepernick when Ryan Tannehill was injured prior to last season, according to a source, but opted for Jay Cutler because of his familiarity with Adam Gase’s offense.
Kaepernick is out to prove some sort of collusion among NFL owners to keep him from returning to the league. Ross said at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando that he believes in players’ rights to speak their thoughts.
“That’s what America is all about,” he said.
Ross has also personally funded the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to the tune of $7 million. RISE uses sports to bring people together to promote understanding, respect and equality and to promote race relations.
DAVIE — Dolphins safety Michael Thomas has severed ties with the Players Coalition, a group whose leaders include Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin, as the NFL submitted a proposal to the coalition that would contribute almost $100 million to causes seeking social justice.
Thomas, one of three Dolphins who kneel during the national anthem, is expected to meet with the South Florida media on Wednesday afternoon to explain his decision.
ESPN quoted 49ers safety Eric Reid as saying he and Thomas are withdrawing from the coalition over a lack of transparency in the negotiations.
“The Players Coalition was supposed to be formed as a group that represents NFL Athletes who have been silently protesting social injustices and racism,” Thomas and Reid wrote on Twitter. “However, Malcolm (Jenkins) and Anquan can no longer speak on our behalf as we don’t believe the coalition’s beliefs are in our best interests as a whole.”
Reid, who joined Colin Kaepernick by kneeling, told ESPN, “Myself and other protesting players are departing from the Players Coalition because we aren’t satisfied with the structure of the Players Coalition and the communication that’s been happening between Malcolm and the NFL. Myself and the aforementioned protesting players have voiced these concerns numerous times to Malcolm, concerning the structure of the organization and how we want to be involved more with the NFL in those communications. It has not transpired.”
ESPN reported that the national funding would be allocated with 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund, 25 percent to Dream Corps and 50 percent to the Players Coalition, which has filed 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) paperwork for nonprofit status.
Odrick, a free-agent defensive lineman who played for Miami from 2010-14, lauds Colin Kaepernick’s courage but criticizes those who abide by a code of remaining tight-lipped on non-football issues.
“The player who chooses to stand out has already ended his career,” Odrick wrote. “Much like the way I will likely end mine.”
Odrick criticizes Michael Jordan for being apolitical and LeBron James for not speaking out forcefully enough. He saved his harshest words for retired linebacker Ray Lewis, who both criticized those kneeling during the national anthem and joined them. Odrick wrote that Lewis is too high up on his pedestal to recognize injustice.
“Why face reality when you can have your very own statue in front of a stadium?” Odrick wrote. “Memorializing yourself is the best way to suppress the real history, whether we’re talking about pleading guilty to obstruction of justice after being charged with double homicide or, in a broader sense, genocide and slavery.”
Odrick left the Dolphins for a five-year, $42.5 million contract from Jacksonville, including $22.5 million guaranteed. He was released in February and has not been re-signed.
He painted a grim picture of the hierarchy in pro football.
“It’s a system set up by rich white men to fool young strapping black men into thinking they’re building their own identity, their own purpose, their own moral code,” Odrick wrote. “In reality, that code is written and enforced by the men in suits looking down from their skyboxes.”
The code forced upon players, he wrote, is, “Put your body at risk. Have this surgery. Don’t ask questions. Do your job. Don’t speak on non-football issues unless we approve, because you’re going to make yourself and your organization look bad.”
Odrick recalled a conversation he had during a replay timeout in New England while playing for the Dolphins. Scanning the crowd, Odrick saw cutout faces of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, who are white. He walked up to LeGarrette Blount, an African-American, and asked why there was no cutout for him.
“He chuckled, ‘Man, you don’t think I know the score?’ ” Odrick wrote.
Odrick asks fans to “stop idolizing puppets and turning on the ones who reveal themselves as people with formulated opinions. When you invest your money in an athlete, whether you’re watching him in person or wearing his name and number on your back, he does not owe you his silence.”
When Jay Cutler arrived in South Florida, groggy from an early flight, he did so as a hero. Days earlier, the Dolphins’ season was thrown into crisis when Ryan Tannehill reinjured his knee, but now there was hope. More than hope, really. In some circles, there was belief that Miami had actually upgraded at quarterback.
That theory burgeoned as Cutler showed off his rocket right arm in practices and looked good in brief preseason appearances and played well in the season opener. That was the high point thus far: A 24-for-33, 230-yard performance that included one touchdown pass and was barely enough to get past the Chargers, who remain winless to this day.
Less than one month later, Cutler goes into today’s home game against the Titans under heavy questioning. But is he really any different than he’s ever been? Would there be this kind of letdown if he hadn’t been perceived as a star riding in to take the Dolphins farther than Tannehill ever could?
Try recasting it another way. Forget that Miami coach Adam Gase, who knows Cutler as well as anyone, decided in March he preferred to stay with Matt Moore as his backup quarterback than even broach the subject with Cutler. If the Dolphins had tried to rehabilitate Cutler, a 34-year-old coming off a bad season and drawing minimal interest in free agency, as Tannehill’s backup there would be much more measured expectations.
If both players were healthy, it’s hard to imagine Cutler threatening Tannehill’s job. As much history as Gase has with Cutler, he’d rather have a healthy Tannehill.
The Jets seemed to have their pick of Cutler or 38-year-old Josh McCown and went with McCown. Right now, McCown’s got a higher completion percentage, more yardage, and more touchdowns. He’s doing that with skill players that are clearly a tier below Miami’s.
The fact is Cutler’s never actually been a star. He made one Pro Bowl, which was all the way back in his final year with Denver. He was on one playoff team in the 11 seasons prior to joining Miami and has a career record of 69-73. The only year in which he topped a 90 passer rating was in 2015 with Gase in his ear. He posted a 92.3 that season, a shade below Tannehill’s 2014 and ’16 marks.
Getting past Cutler’s elite arm strength, the fact that he was the best quarterback in his draft class and his fame as a meme, he’s just a guy. The same could be said of Tannehill, but at least he had the upside of being 29 and possibly just hitting his prime.
One reason Cutler so easily shrugs off the last two games, when he combined to go 46 of 72 with 384 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, is because he’s had those before. He’s had a passer rating under 80 in about 40 percent of his career starts. Last week’s pathetic passing total of 164 yards? He’s had 24 games that were quieter.
Cutler’s eventually going to have a day where he puts up 300-something yards and a few touchdowns. He might even have a few of those. He’ll probably follow with some stinkers. It’s always been a wild ride for any franchise that ties itself to him, and now it’s the Miami Dolphins’ turn.
And, by the way, that’s fine.
It’s time to accept that this isn’t a disappointment. This is who he is—and he’s a 34-year-old version of whatever he used to be. As Gase pointed out this week, it’s harder to compensate for some of his glitches at this age than it was at 25. Don’t play yourself by thinking this is comparable to the Vikings picking up Brett Favre at the end or the Broncos bringing in Peyton Manning. He’s closer in stature to Trent Green or Chad Pennington.
Cutler was still the right pick at the time and he’s still the right pick going forward. He’s not a bad option when the starter goes down in August, and right now there’s no worthwhile move to make with him—not that Gase would even consider it. So get used to Cutler and, for your own sake, be realistic about him.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Donald Trump wielded the powerful reach of the presidency to shred activist football players, and five Miami Dolphins answered by kneeling during the national anthem this afternoon.
Who made better use of their platform?
Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas, Laremy Tunsil, Jay Ajayi and Maurice Smith are the ones actually seeking to make America great in this exchange, seeing an opportunity for peaceful resistance and not letting it slip past them. There was nothing bombastic or profane about their demonstration, no venomous attacks like Trump’s assertion that those five and anyone like them is a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Only one of these approaches is truly un-American, and it’s the one in which the authority figure abuses his position by calling for those who speak up to lose their livelihood.
On the flipside, there’s nothing unpatriotic about the players’ civil protest. It’s the most American thing they could have done, and it’s misdirection to attempt to cast it as anti-military or anti-flag.
It’s not even entirely about Trump, though he’s the one who directly triggered this in Miami’s locker room. That would be grossly oversimplifying what’s at the heart of their movement. He’s merely a symptom of the illness.
“It was for this country,” said Jarvis Landry, who stood in the middle of the five and hugged each one of them afterward.
Trump’s the one who practically begged for this wave of protests, whether he realized it or not. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate between intentional and unintentional with him.
At first glance it looks like his comments Friday backfired, but maybe he wanted this. Perhaps he enjoyed seeing the reaction ripple through the league, spreading even to another continent because the Jaguars and Ravens played in London, as he plays to his fervent base. Maybe this makes his side dig in harder.
“I just felt like the president was trying to use fear, and we had a lot of guys that wanted to take a knee and I didn’t want to leave them out to dry by themselves,” Stills said. “I didn’t want to be intimidated by the president. It was time for me to get back in and join the protest, and with the support of my teammates and everyone locking arms, it was the perfect time.”
Tunsil wasn’t part of last year’s demonstrations, but part of him wanted to be. As a rookie, he admitted he wouldn’t have been comfortable explaining himself if he’d done it. There’s a lot of heat that comes with taking these stands.
This year, he was all-in. He made his decision instantly Friday night.
“I had to stand up for my rights,” Tunsil said. “Basically, he was talking to African-American players because we’re standing up for our rights and we want to take knees. But he called us sons of bitches? You’re the president of the United States. You’re not supposed to do anything like that.
“But y’all want him in office and that’s what y’all got. Now he’s calling African Americans sons of bitches because we’re standing up for our rights. What’s going on in America? People look at the NFL as though we just want to entertain people and amuse people; they don’t respect us. It tells you a lot when the president comes out and calls us sons of bitches.”
Based on the explanations most of these players have given, their intent seems to be unity rather than discord. They’re not looking for enemies. They want allies.
They’re demonstrating because they’ve seen injustice much of their lives and they want change. They’re letting others who share the struggle know they’re not alone, and they hope it prompts those of us who don’t endure daily discrimination take notice.
“I’ve done everything I can to try and bring people together, and people still aren’t understanding,” Stills said. “They’re still not listening. At some point in time, we’ve gotta step back and have tough conversations. You’ve gotta listen to people that don’t agree with you.
“I promise you, we’re trying to do something that’s right… We’re not trying to divide anybody, we’re not trying to disrespect anybody. We’ve never been that way. I just encourage people to have a tough conversation.”
Race-based injustice isn’t a new trend. It’s been part of this country’s heritage since its inception. The variable is how much white people notice and how much of a voice black people feel they have to speak against it.
Athletes have never had the ability to be heard like they are now, thanks to the massive reach of social media and the unprecedented visibility of sports on television. It’s inspiring to see them use it for something that matters.
“Before I’m a football player, I’m a man,” Thomas said. “That is above any profession we all have. I’ve heard the comments that this isn’t the time or place to do that, and you’re right that I could have a rally or invite people from back home—people that feel the same way I do—and how many people will I touch? How many people will I get to talk to? A couple hundred, maybe a thousand.
“But I took the opportunity today to show millions of people that I’m not OK with somebody trying to prevent someone from standing for what they think is important. I think that’s what our country’s about. That should always be respected. To have somebody calling someone silently protesting a son of a bitch is past what I believe is acceptable.”
And they’re doing it at great risk, though these particular players are fortunate to have the full support of billionaire owner Stephen Ross. He stood arm-in-arm between Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey during the anthem, and no owner in the league has been as outspoken on this topic. He cleared the way for his employees to act freely by releasing a sharp statement against Trump’s remarks Saturday.
Many don’t have that security. Colin Kaepernick isn’t a great quarterback, but he’s good enough to have a job somewhere in this league and remains unemployed. Even as the disappointment over not getting to play lingers, surely he was proud of what happened today. He’s winning bigger off the field than he ever did on it.
Smith is an undrafted rookie at the back of the Dolphins’ depth chart at safety, someone most fans wouldn’t blink if the team cut him. He’s 22 and has no idea at this point how many years he’ll be able to earn an NFL salary. Some of protesters are so valuable that they can do pretty much anything and count on having a job, but there are many players like Smith who must weigh such consequences.
Many Dolphins wore “#IMWITHKAP” t-shirts before the game, as did strength and conditioning assistant Mike Wahle. He played offensive guard for 11 years, including a Pro Bowl season in 2005. More significantly, he’s a product of the United States Naval Academy.
“I have to put my health on the line for the man next to me; How could I not respect someone that’s gonna put their life on the line for the man next to them and for the people back home?” Thomas said. “If somebody wants to say that’s what I have no respect for, then they’re just using that to prevent people from seeking equality.”
We all like to think we have the guts to make a stand of that magnitude, but I probably don’t. I’m too concerned with my comfort and the certain backlash from family, friends and co-workers. I’d be an unlikely candidate to put my easy existence on the line.
It’s also admirable that players can compartmentalize so effectively, leaving one intense situation to step into a completely different one moments later.
The anthem wasn’t weighing on anyone once the Dolphins and Jets took the field for kickoff. It’s absurd to draw any connection between the player demonstration and the ensuing 20-6 loss to the Jets. No one who’s been around NFL players would think that. It makes no impact on their job itself, unlike how Trump’s fixation continuing to distract him from one he’s been doing so ineptly the last eight months.
“We stand up for our rights, we take a knee—that’s point-blank simple,” Tunsil said. “After that’s over, we’re playing football. Put the ball on the ground, and we’ll play football.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Most members of the Dolphins — including owner Stephen Ross — responded to criticism from President Donald Trump by interlocking arms during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.
The Dolphins lined up on the visitors’ sideline at MetLife Stadium and interlocked arms as the crowd rose for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On the far right side of the lineup, four Dolphins kneeled: Julius Thomas, Kenny Stills, Maurice Smith and Laremy Tunsil.
Those who interlocked arms were making a statement about social injustice while trying to avoid criticism that erupted last season when players kneeled during the anthem. Many fans saw that as disrespectful of the flag and the military.
Jets players also locked arms in response to Trump’s comments two days earlier, when he called for NFL owners to swiftly respond to any player disrespecting the flag. Trump wanted owners to say, “Get that son of a b—- off the field right now.”
Trump’s call brought a flood of reaction from NFL players and owners, the majority of whom are Republicans. Many supported Trump in the election.
The Ravens and Jaguars began Sunday’s action with a game in London kicking off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. At Wembley Stadium, most players on both teams locked arms in solidarity or kneeled during the anthem.
That included Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who contributed $1 million to Trump’s presidential campaign. Ravens legend Ray Lewis took a knee.
The movement began last year when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem, which inspired then-Dolphins Jelani Jenkins and Arian Foster, plus current Dolphins Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills, to kneel.
Thomas and Stills had earlier decided against protesting this season.
Among those rebuking Trump was Ross, who launched a RISE campaign to promote equality and social progress through sports.
“Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness,” Ross said in a statement released Saturday night. “We need to seek to understand each other and have civil discourse instead of condemnation and sound bites.”
Thomas said he began kneeling after receiving a personal blessing from Ross to do so.
“I know our players who kneeled for the anthem and these are smart young men of character who want to make our world a better place for everyone,” Ross said. “They wanted to start a conversation and are making a difference in our community, including working with law enforcement to bring people together. We all can benefit from learning, listening and respecting each other. Sports is a common denominator in our world. We all have the responsibility to use this platform to promote understanding, respect and equality.”
NEW YORK–The NFL is bracing for a wave of national anthem protests today in the wake of Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about players who have been demonstrating. One of the most prominent players to do so last year was Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Stills said going into the season he would no longer kneel during the anthem, but he’s surely been thinking about that this weekend. Few Dolphins players are as likely to take a political stance today as he is.
Stills hasn’t given any public response to Trump, but here’s one indication of what he’s thinking this morning: He tweeted out a photo of himself wearing a shirt that reads #IMWITHKAP with the caption “In case you didn’t know!”
That’s a reference to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is credited with starting the anthem protest movement last summer. Kaepernick remains out of a job, seemingly in part because of his activism.
Stills and safety Michael Thomas, as well as former Dolphins Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins, kneeled during the anthem at last year’s opener in Seattle.
Stills and Thomas continued demonstrating the remainder of the season, saying they were taking a stand against racial inequality. Neither intended to continue kneeling this season, saying they’d made their point last year and it was time to take different action. All Dolphins players stood for the national anthem at last week’s game against the Chargers.
PHILADELPHIA — Filmmaker Spike Lee, in expressing outrage about the continued unemployment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, dragged Jay Cutler into the conversation in an appearance on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Wednesday night.
Lee stated that Cutler was retired when signed recently by the Miami Dolphins to a $10 million contract and that Cutler is not as good as Kaepernick.
Now, Lee may or may not know (he probably doesn’t) all the details that would have gone into Miami’s decision to choose Cutler over Kaepernick.
But any discussion of Miami’s decision must begin (and in some minds, end) with the fact that Cutler had played for Dolphins coach Adam Gase, and played well, only two years ago.
Because of the timing of Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending injury (so close to the start of the season) it made total sense for the organization to go with a quarterback who was more than familiar with Gase’s playbook.
Cutler, a noted quick study and Vanderbilt graduate, has an intimate knowledge of Gase’s offense.
Lee may or may not have known the extreme likelyhood that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would not have blocked the signing of Kaepernick if his football decision-makers had pushed strongly for it.
Ross is open-minded. He is a leader in the community. He has put his money where his heart is, investing in countless projects that benefit not only the education and development of his players, but the general public.
Why were the Dolphins the perfectly wrong organization to call out on CNN?
Well, Ross has been honored and celebrated for founding RISE (the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), a non-profit organization dedicated to harnessing the unifying the power of sports to improve race relations and drive social progress.
One of Ross’ greatest life missions is to fight racism. This is also a man who made it a point to publicly support three Dolphins (Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills) who kneeled during the national anthem in social protest last season.
And by the way, Ross then gave Stills and Thomas new contracts.
The Dolphins, I have been told, would in fact have debated and deeply discussed free-agent quarterbacks Kaepernick, as well as Christian Ponder and Robert Griffin III, if Cutler had not agreed to un-retire and play for his good friend, Gase.
It is unknown if Lee knows all these details.
But in considering Lee’s on-air assertion that NFL owners (he named upwards of 10 alleged to be supporters of President Donald Trump) are in cahoots to block Kaepernick’s return to the NFL, it should be noted that Ross was not in cahoots with any owner about anything related to Kaepernick.
In fact, Ross, the only owner to vote against Oakland’s relocation to Las Vegas, clearly has the fortitude to march to his own beat.
All that said, Lee’s key premise is intriguing. Putting aside circumstances (and, yes, it’s fair to wonder if Kaepernick, a man who once wore a T-Shirt featuring former Cuban leader Fidel Castro would be an ideal fit in Miami) it is fair to wonder if Kaepernick is a better player than Cutler.
So, for the record, here is the research:
• Win-Loss record: While Cutler is three games under .500 in the regular-season in his career and Kaepernick is two games under .500, Kaepernick is 5-2 in the post-season and has played in a Super Bowl, while Cutler is only 1-1 and hasn’t been in a playoff game since 2010.
• Quarterback Rating: 88.9 to 85.7.
• Rushing: 33 yards per game to 12.
• Interceptions: one every 1.8 attempts to 3.3.
• Completion percentage: 61.9 to 59.8.
• Passing yard per game: 233.6 to 177.8.
• Sacks: 6.3 percent of attempts to 9.2.
In summary, Kaepernick has a smaller sample size of NFL experience (six years) than Cutler (11 years) but has, presumably, more years to offer at the age of 29, while Cutler is 34.
Kaepernick turns the ball over less and is a more effective runner.
Cutler passes for more yards per game, is slightly more accurate and takes a few less sacks.
Kaepernick is slightly more impressive in overall quarterback rating, but the players have very different styles and strengths and it’s not fair to suggest that the former 49er is clearly, quantifiably better than Cutler.
There are some who have suggested that Cutler’s perceived demeanor in Chicago (wholly or partially accurate, or not) as non-communicative and disinterested, played a role in his release and subsequently extended free-agent status.
There are many who believe that Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last season, and make strong social commentary about what he perceives to be injustices, have been primary factors in his subsequently extended free-agent status.
One thing that should seem clear to those who understand the circumstances is this: Miami’s decision to sign Cutler, and not Kaepernick, was not driven by politics, controversy or cahoots.
The backlash is coming. Some of it will hit the Dolphins tonight, and it’ll probably be a full-blown controversy by Monday morning.
Why did they choose Jay Cutler over Colin Kaepernick?
That’s the question that seems to dog every team that doesn’t pick Kaepernick, with the implication being that his national anthem protests are costing him football opportunities. And there might be some legitimacy to that suspicion, but it’d be highly unfair to throw accusations at the Dolphins for their recent choice.
For starters, no owner in the league has been as outspoken in his support of protesting players than Stephen Ross. He held a rare media availability in the locker room at last year’s season opener specifically to make sure everyone knew he had the backs of Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins and Arian Foster when they knelt during the anthem on Sept. 11 of all days.
Ross has upheld that support ever since, and if Stills and Thomas want to protest in the same way this season, there’s no doubt they’re free to do so.
Kaepernick’s name actually came up with Ross about a week before Ryan Tannehill went down. He was asked whether the ongoing saga of Kaepernick’s free agency made him think NFL teams were blacklisting a perfectly capable quarterback.
“I would sure hope not,” Ross said. “I know a lot’s been written about it, but you know owners and coaches—they’ll do anything it takes to win. If they think he can help them win, I’m sure—I would hope they would sign him.”
It would’ve been interesting to see if that applied to Miami had Cutler opted to stick with his broadcasting job. While the Dolphins wouldn’t have held Kaepernick’s activism against him, there’s a Miami-specific issue that would’ve complicated things: Kaepernick wore a Fidel Castro t-shirt to a press conference last year and voiced support for some of his principles, and that’s unacceptable in South Florida.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended and ultimately lost his job in 2012 over similar comments. Heat owner Micky Arison drew criticism last April when his Carnival Cruise Lines made a deal for access to Cuba that included a ban on Cuban-born people from buying tickets, and the policy was quickly reversed.
There are Cuban communities throughout the United States, but none as prevalent as South Florida’s. It never came to this since the Dolphins targeted Cutler from the onset, but if they’d passed on Kaepernick on those grounds alone, it’d be justifiable.
Ultimately, though, this decision wasn’t about any of those things. Cutler was the best option for the Dolphins because of his familiarity with coach Adam Gase, and that’s valuable when the regular season is a little over a month away.
Gase doesn’t have to project anything with Cutler; he has a clear grasp of what he’ll get from him in this offense. He knows his mechanics and preferences, and he knows how to tailor the playbook based on that.
On paper, Kaepernick and Cutler aren’t that different. They’re within three points of each other in career passer rating, they’re both around .500 and both were dumped by dreadful teams that believed they’d be better off without them.
Cutler was good in his last healthy season. Under Gase in 2015, he completed 64.4 percent of his passes, threw for 3,659 yards and had 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a career-best 92.3 passer rating. If Gase is confident he can get performance along those lines out of Cutler this year, that’s the sound choice.