Most fans of the Carolina Panthers were baffled at the release of nickel CB Brandon Boykin a couple of days ago as he had just been signed a couple of months ago. Twitter lit up with confusion over the move. A few fans really got in a funk over it and quickly became annoying to listen to as every foreseeable outcome was nothing but doom and gloom for them.
To those few, I say the same thing that former Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain said to the GOP establishment about Donald Trump's rise:
GET OVER IT!
First, The Professor penned a nice, compact, relevant post about it when it happened. You can read what he had to say right here:
Generally speaking, fans were confused as to why a guy who has shown quite some instincts and talent in Philadelphia and then in Pittsburgh would be the first defensive back cut by the team. That's a valid concern because there is no obvious answer, thus, the title to this article.
I knew his release wasn't likely due to an injury or his previous play. The now much-quoted tweet has been making the rounds -- you've seen it, the one about how PFF (Pro Football Focus) says he was Pittsburgh's best CB last year, or that every year in his young career, he has finished with a good ranking at corner overall. He even did well when he was given chances to return kicks and, like Shaq Thompson, won the Paul Hornung Award for being the most versatile collegiate player. The former Georgia Bulldog also set an SEC record with 4 kickoff return TDs.
All that's fine and dandy, and likely why he was signed in the first place. His 6-figure salary was understated for his apparent talent level so the team got a bargain. In fact, when the Panthers signed him, Boykin said "I turned down $2 million to go to a place where I can play fairly."
Or, so people thought.
I've taken the liberty of researching him online via Google -- not a huge, in-depth psychoanalysis of the guy but for insight into the REAL reason he was let go so quickly. After all, Dave Gettleman isn't in the biz of paying out money for nothing. He already has a reputation for being miserly, but it's some needed restraint after former General Manager Marty Hurney broke the bank. Gettleman's not an idiot & knows the quickest way HE can earn a ticket out of Charlotte is to let that salary cap explode again.
That brings me to my next point in setting the backdrop: Josh Norman's release.
Gettleman & Ron Rivera both wanted Norman back in Charlotte this year, but the young CB "knows his worth" as fellow corner Patrick Peterson tweeted. As a result, he found that the Washington Redskins value him at 2-3 million dollars more than do the Panthers, so he signed there. Good for Josh; no hard feelings here. Football is a young man's game and I can't blame someone who takes the punishment of the NFL career for trying to maximize their earnings because when you hit 30 in the NFL? You're OLD!
All this seems to be supportive of a young, talented veteran corner like Boykin sticking around in Charlotte -- at least through the preseason -- if for no other reasons than as potential insurance against injuries. Other good, sound reasons exist for his staying: three rookie corners are three good reasons. The final CB the Panthers drafted is also a nickel corner just like Boykin is.
However, I don't see a late-round draft pick being so impressive to the coaching staff after a couple of days of OTAs -- basically classroom stuff and walking around in shorts, no pads -- would be enough to make that decision so quickly.
Rosters don't have to be shaved down quite yet and besides, there are a few undrafted rookie free agents that signed with the Panthers that could be just as exciting if not more so.
Remaining is the elephant in the room: WHY?
To attempt to answer that, as I said, I looked into some old stories that I could find. He had issues with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, but then again, who didn't have issues with the guy? Kelly wore out his welcome pretty quickly and looks to me to be a coach that's very much along the lines of a college autocrat like Greg Schiano was a few years ago in Tampa Bay. That's the risk you run when hiring a career college coach...hiring someone who is unable to make the transition successfully. In that respect, hiring a new Head Coach is like drafting a top pick. You don't really, truly know what'll happen until he sees the field.
You can read what Boykin had to say about Kelly's Eagles here.
What strikes me about that interview is not the comments of Brandon Boykin about Kelly but his referencing the race-centric reporter Stephen A. Smith. In and of itself, it's not much to know but worth filing away.
The article also mentions that Boykin was outspoken several times over Kelly. However, none of this was news when the Panthers signed him to a 1-year $860,000 contract just a couple of months ago. The article just referenced above goes on to talk about Kelly having a "hint of racism" about him.
After Boykin demanded a "larger role than was given him," he took some of his grievances public. However, he wasn't the only player to do so but the Eagles traded him to Pittsburgh anyway.
Boykin's time in Pittsburgh is what actually draws my attention more. The Steelers had an infamously bad secondary and opponents carved them up on a regular basis, finishing near-last while Boykin was there. Mike Tomlin, who is well-known for being a player's coach, also happens to be a black man. Even with the issues the Steelers' secondary faced, Boykin didn't see the field until he was the "last man up," more or less.
There are unanswered questions about that situation that linger even today. I can see him not getting along with Chip Kelly, but Mike Tomlin, too?
And now, Ron Rivera?
I've never been one to think in terms of race. I'm a pragmatist and would run an NFL team as a "meritocracy" so if you play better, you play more, assuming there's nothing going on behind the scenes, off the field, locker room issues or not following team rules.
Therein lies the issue, in my opinion.
Gettleman and Rivera have earned a reputation for wanting upstanding players both on and off the field. Without much reasoning coming out of Pittsburgh as to why he was let to become a free agent and without hearing much out of Carolina's management following the release, one has to start to try to read between the lines.
Pittsburgh wanted Boykin from Philly, had an offer on the table, and later increased the offer to a "4th or 5th round pick depending on his snaps." It sounds like he could have cost the Steelers a round in the draft if he played more, but that's not nearly enough of a reason to keep a seemingly talented, documented nickel corner off the field. Most coaches would gladly do so. "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today..."
Mike Tomlin, a member of the exclusive club of coaches who have won Super Bowls, is one of the more crafty coaches in the NFL. It's not a mistake. The Steelers wanted him and wanted him fairly badly since they increased their offer to him. He arrived, didn't play nearly as much as was thought that he would, and let walk when his contract expired.
This wasn't some oversight. The Steelers are a top-five NFL organization and have been for as long as I can recall, and I'm 49 years old. The Rooneys have run their team well and are THE TEAM who is MOST color-blind. Google "The Rooney Rule" and that should tell you why, but basically the deceased Art Rooney helped the league insert a rule that said when you hire a new Head Coach, you MUST interview at least one minority.
Therefore, I just don't see the Steelers and race being an issue with Boykin. Put that rumor to bed -- now!
In fact, while Boykin's initial opportunity to see the field in Pittsburgh was thin, he wound up seeing the field second-most at CB behind only William Gay. After the season, Boykin went out of his way not to bash the Steelers because he wanted to re-sign with them. A lot of that info is in this article here.
On the surface, Boykin seemed to be a consummate pro in Pittsburgh. He played well and played his way into the more playing time he wanted, despite any hurt feelings he may or may not have harbored. He didn't voice them at that time.
What we do know so far is that he's small at 5'9" and 184 lbs, has very fluid cover skills, a LOT of speed, and has one of those "chiseled" physiques that only genetics can produce. Being a smaller guy, he's not very physical against bigger WRs (thus, his nickelback status) and can get pushed around by, say, a Kelvin Benjamin. But not many CBs matchup well with a Kelvinator in the size department. Benjamin out-weighs most outside linebackers these days.
Boykin is also a liability in the running game; however, again, most nickelbacks are. The position calls for quickness over speed but Boykin has both. He's played well everywhere he's been and his career would seem to indicate he has been underutilized overall.
So what's the deal?
Just from the facts, the only thing I can see him being deficient in is his tackling. One of my personal all-time favorite ex-Panthers is Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn was an exception in that he was/is VERY solidly-built at 5'8" 195 lbs., could blitz, cover, and wasn't bad in the running game or at tackling. Unfortunately, he was let go as a cap casualty when Gettleman was working through the worst of the Cap Hell that Hurney left us.
Boykin's coachable weaknesses are staying in the backpedal too long and in general has poor "mechanics" in coverage, according to his scouting report here.
Again; none of that was unknown when the Panthers signed him. Yes, I know I'm repeating myself in this article, but I'm trying to build not a "case" for/against Boykin but an understanding of the situation since we lack comment from pretty much anyone other than Chip Kelly about the guy.
I think that right there is the key.
Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera don't want to go public about any coaching issues with the guy or whether or not he's hard-headed, a poor locker-room influence, habitually late for team meetings, or what have you. None of that has come out from players and none other than DeAngelo Williams publicly said he was a good guy.
After the two dozen or so articles I looked through, I think ROTOWORLD may sum up what's going on the best:
Panthers released SCB Brandon Boykin.
Boykin signed a one-year deal with Carolina in late March which included an $80,000 signing bonus. The state of the corner depth chart and their willingness to eat that bonus prior to the start of OTAs suggests Boykin is dealing with an off-field issue. Once considered an elite slot corner, Boykin's career has taken a sharp turn south since being traded to the Steelers last August. Carolina also cut DB Ras-I Dowling and WR Jenson Stoshak. May 16 - 9:34 AM
Source: Jonathan Jones on Twitter
All signs point to something going on off the field with Brandon Boykin. I won't speculate as to what it might be because that wouldn't be fair to him or anyone else but suffice it to say it became apparent pretty quickly that Boykin isn't a good "fit" in Charlotte for whatever reason. The fact that the coaches and teammates haven't said the first thing about the real reasons behind his nomadic NFL career so far lead me to believe something you don't see on the field is at the core of the issue here. We may not know for years, if ever, what the probelm(s) might be.
Whatever it is, it is likely a rather large issue other than a collection of smaller ones. Boykin's play on the field warrants playing time with just about any NFL team out there, but he has worn out his welcome now with three different franchises and managed to do so most recently in only two months.
I think it's a case of nobody wanting to go public about the exact reasons. Over time, I have learned that when that happens, yes, it often is an uncomfortable subject to speak of and if a team gets into it in public, there are always possibilities of lawsuits and overall legal issues involved that the team just doesn't want to step into, so they don't even start to do so.
I wish I had more concrete findings to share with you, but the lack of such in and of itself is quite telling. If Atlanta, for example, doesn't jump on the guy by the end of the week and the longer he remains unsigned, the more it will tell me whatever word that might be out about Boykin that isn't being shared in public really IS bad news.
Keep an ear out for him signing somewhere -- ANYWHERE -- and pay attention to it and the circumstances. It should let us know a lot more, depending on the team's history that may sign him. If it's a team that has a history of signing troubled players...Dallas, Cincy for instance...it should tell us just how far this wonderfully gifted athlete has fallen. Given his good set of on-field tools he's shown us so far, his inability to find an NFL "fit" is NOT due to his lacking in talent, period.
Given the fact he was released while total unknowns remain on the Carolina roster in the secondary, whatever is going on behind the scenes is likely to be huge or perhaps almost radioactive.
He sure is being treated as if he IS radioactive in-person.
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye