The revelation from Gisele Bundchen last week that Tom Brady suffered a concussion last year, and that he “has concussions,” certainly created a stir among NFL fans.
But while the revelation itself was interesting, putting it into proper context was not easy. What, exactly, is the story here?
It’s not, as Patriots detractors screamed, another case of those cheatin’ Patriots skirting the rules. Anyone who has followed Brady’s career for more than 20 minutes knows how he prides himself on toughness and playing through pain, and that there is pretty much zero chance that he would tell Bill Belichick and the team that he had suffered a concussion.
It’s not, as agent Don Yee tried to claim on Friday, that Bundchen spoke out of turn and Brady didn’t have a concussion last season. Bundchen had no reason to lie or exaggerate, and she eats, sleeps, and breathes next to Brady all day. To think that Yee knows every little thing about Brady from 3,000 miles away in California simply isn’t realistic.
And it’s not, as the anti-Roger Goodell crowd screamed, that the NFL doesn’t care about its players and doesn’t take concussions seriously. Of the four major pro sports leagues, the NFL is by far the most proactive when it comes to head injuries (especially compared with the NHL).
After chewing on the news for a few days, here is the story:
1. Brady has been sacked 417 times in his career, and probably been hit twice as much on other throws and scrambles. Of course he has suffered a few concussions.
2. Despite the advances in concussion awareness and how to treat head injuries, many athletes will do whatever it takes to conceal and play through them.
The NFL has taken great strides in recent years to try to guard against concussions — placing unaffiliated neurological consultants on each sideline, developing a protocol for players to pass before they can return to play, awarding grants to companies to try to develop safer helmets, and giving the concussion spotter in the booth the ability to stop a game and force a player to take a concussion test.
But the new protocols only work when the players cooperate. In all likelihood, Brady is one of hundreds of NFL players who either hid his concussion effects from his team, or didn’t even know he was concussed at the time. Not every concussion results in a blackout or wooziness, and sometimes it can take hours or days for the aftereffects of a concussion to take hold.
This problem is nothing new for the NFL. Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011 spoke about hiding concussions because, “No one’s going to sign or want a guy who can’t stay healthy.”
Rob Gronkowski in 2014 said that he’d rather suffer a concussion than a knee injury.
“Would I rather have a concussion and be out for three days or rather have a knee injury and be rehabbing for six months?” he said. “That’s a pretty obvious answer.”
In 2015, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted he was able to finish out a game after suffering a concussion.
“I just kind of kept it to myself, which I really shouldn’t have done,” he said. “The medical staff and the coaching staff were kind of upset with me afterward. I think they all trust my own judgment. Nobody really knew anything or asked me anything. I was still able to digest the plan. We were still making adjustments and I was still making calls.”
And in 2016, Washington tight end Jordan Reed, who has had several significant concussions in his career, was able to hide one from his team.
“The next day, I was feeling all right, then I was doing some exercises and I started to feel it worse,” Reed said.
And those are just the few examples we found with a quick Google search. In reality, dozens if not hundreds of players each year are hiding concussions, or are unaware that they suffered one.
The problem is there’s no easy answer to this. We all want to see NFL players live healthy, long, productive lives, but can you imagine the outrage if an official tried to take Julian Edelman off the field at the end of Super Bowl XLIX? Or if Brady was told that he had to come off the field and take the concussion test while the Patriots were making their dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI?
The players know they might have to miss some game time if they are diagnosed with a concussion — Luke Kuechly missed four games with one last season — and that they will have trouble finding a job if they are labeled a “concussion guy.”
Drew Brees told “The Dan Patrick Show” last week that he wouldn’t even tell his wife if he suffered a concussion.
“I wouldn’t want her to worry,” he said. “If it wasn’t for [a coach], I wasn’t pulling myself out of the game. And that’s why it’s hard to change that mentality for guys. When you’re in the heat of the moment, the heat of the battle, and it’s competitive, you do not want to pull yourself out.”
The NFL needs to continue investing in concussion research and prevention and to improve its policies. But its policies can only go so far. For many of the smaller concussions, it’s ultimately up to the player to decide whether he is going to cooperate.
A PROBLEM BUILDS
LA stadium plan hits complication
The NFL’s return to Los Angeles hit a snag last week when stadium developers announced that the opening of the sparkling, multibillion-dollar new home for the Rams and Chargers will be delayed a year to 2020 because of record rainfall in Southern California.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the region saw double its expected rainfall this past winter, leaving pools of water 12 to 15 feet deep that delayed construction.
The delays don’t affect the Rams much — they can play in the 90,000-seat Coliseum through 2019. But the delay complicates matters for the stadium, the NFL, and the Chargers.
The NFL previously voted to hold the 2021 Super Bowl at the new LA stadium, but the league has a rule that no stadium can host a Super Bowl in its first year in operation, based on the notion that the stadium needs a year to work out the kinks in terms of parking, traffic, fan experience, and so on.
The NFL owners would have to grant a special waiver to allow the LA stadium to host the big game in its first year. It’s not unheard of — the NFL granted a waiver to MetLife Stadium to host an open-air Super Bowl in a cold-weather city three years ago — but it certainly complicates matters for the league and the LA Super Bowl host committee. The waiver figures to be an important topic of conversation this week when the NFL owners gather for their spring meetings in Chicago.
As for the Chargers, the delay means they now must spend a third year playing in the tiny StubHub Center in Carson, with only 30,000 seats. The Chargers are selling it as an intimate, exclusive setting for football fans, but it has the potential to look like the minor leagues compared to the 70,000-seat behemoths across the rest of the NFL.
The LA stadium had to be built for two teams, but developers told the Times that if the stadium only had one tenant for now, the stadium potentially could have been completed for the 2019 season.
So not only did the Chargers unceremoniously ditch one of the NFL’s favorite markets after spending 55 years in San Diego, they are now one reason the stadium will be delayed by a year, and why the Super Bowl bid has been complicated. On top of it, they now have to play a third season in a rinky-dink stadium in a city that doesn’t really want them.
Anyone want a do-over on the Chargers’ move to LA? Let’s just send them back to San Diego and pretend it didn’t happen.
Lynch, Peterson have to aim high
In one sense, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, 31 and 32 years old, respectively, should be thrilled that they’re still employed for 2017.
But their Hall of Fame credentials didn’t earn them much bargaining power this offseason. Their contracts are loaded with incentives, and their teams hold all of the leverage.
Peterson received a $2.5 million signing bonus and a guaranteed salary of $1 million this year. He also has up to $1.75 million available in incentives, but with tough thresholds based on yards and touchdowns. His yardage benchmarks — 750, 1,000, 1,250, and 1,500. His touchdown benchmarks — 6, 8, and 10 (the latter would also require him to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns).
Peterson only reaches the full $1.75 million if he rushes for at least 1,500 yards, at least 10 touchdowns, and leads the league in rushing touchdowns. Good luck.
The Saints then have all of the leverage for 2018 — a $750,000 roster bonus next March that they could simply decline, a $1.05 million salary if they bring him back, and roster bonuses of $25,000 for every game he is on the 46-man roster. The same incentive levels also apply for 2018.
As for Lynch, the Raiders paid him a $1 million bonus in March, his salary will be $1.35 million this fall, he gets $150,000 for participating in offseason workouts, and he’ll make $31,250 for every game he is active.
He also has the longest list of incentives we’ve ever seen — $5.5 million split among 16 different incentives based on rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, making the playoffs, earning a Pro Bowl bid, winning the MVP award, or being named Super Bowl MVP.
His first incentive benchmark is $400,000 for 500 yards, and he also has benchmarks at 600, 800, and 1,000 yards. So he certainly can achieve those. But rushing for at least nine touchdowns, earning a Pro Bowl berth, and winning an MVP award won’t be easy.
And like with Peterson, Lynch has no leverage for 2018, as the Raiders control his rights with a $1 million roster bonus due next March.
But when you’re a running back over 30, you’re just happy to be employed.
More cases of political football
We generally like to keep politics off of the football page, but the recent doings in Washington have had strong ties to the NFL.
Did your ears perk up when the Justice Department tabbed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee its investigation into President Trump and Russia? NFL fans will remember that Mueller also was the guy hired by the NFL to conduct an internal investigation into its handling of the Ray Rice situation in 2014.
Democrats may want to temper their expectations, if the four-month Rice investigation serves as a guide. While Mueller slapped Roger Goodell and the NFL on the wrist for not handing Rice an appropriate punishment the first time, he never found a smoking gun indicating that anyone inside the league offices had seen the Rice elevator tape before it was released by TMZ.
And a month ago, the Trump administration named economist Kevin Hassett as its head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a position that still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. Patriots fans will remember Hassett as one of two authors of a pro-Tom Brady study that was released by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute during Deflategate. It seemed odd at the time that AEI would get involved with something so far outside its usual realm, but the Trump connection ties it all together.
The Titans had an interesting workout Wednesday morning, loading up the buses for a 90-minute ride to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to work out with the 101st Airborne Division. The players navigated a mud-slopped obstacle course, carried 120-pound mannequins as simulated casualties, pushed a Humvee, and crawled under barbed wire while competing against the soldiers. “It was definitely intense,” left tackle Taylor Lewan told the Titans’ website. “They kicked our ass. But it was a cool time, an awesome experience.” . . . With Brady gracing the cover of “Madden NFL 18,” Pro Football Focus tried to quantify the dreaded “Madden Curse.” According to PFF, only five of the past 10 cover stars played a full 16-game season, none of the 10 players graded out as “elite” that season, and only Richard Sherman earned a better grade than he did in the previous season . . . We got a kick out of Bill Belichick saying last week on the podcast of lacrosse superstar Paul Rabil that having a smallish staff size is one reason for the Patriots’ continued success. One of our favorite hobbies on game day is comparing the size of the Patriots’ coaching staff to that of their opponent, and two of the biggest discrepancies in recent years came in games against the Jaguars and Rams, who happen to be two of the worst teams of the last five years. Their staffs were bloated with extra assistants, and it seemed like their head coaches were more concerned with hooking up friends with jobs than in creating a winning environment. The Patriots thrive with a small coaching staff and an even smaller inner circle that consists of Belichick, Nick Caserio, Ernie Adams, and the two coordinators. “Even though you have more people, sometimes less work gets done,” Belichick said . . . The Bills certainly seem like a team looking for a do-over from the Rex Ryan era, which produced a respectable but not stellar 15-17 record in two seasons. In 2014, the Bills played a 4-3 defense under Jim Schwartz and finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed and total defense. The Bills switched to a 3-4 with much of the same personnel under Ryan, and finished 19th in total defense in both years, and 15th and 16th in points allowed. Not surprisingly, new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier confirmed last week that the Bills will be going back to the 4-3 this year . . . Mark Cuban seemed prescient with his “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered” comment about the NFL a few years ago when the league’s TV ratings took a slide last year. Now he questions whether it’s good for the Raiders to ditch the prosperous Bay Area market for Las Vegas, which will be the NFL’s fourth-smallest city. “It’s no disrespect to Las Vegas, it’s a great city and it’s vibrant,” Cuban said on ESPN. “But they’re going to a smaller market, it’s transient, and it’s just another example of chasing every last dollar, and that tends to backfire.”
The deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year option for players selected in the 2014 first round was May 2. Only six were declined.