Inside a Denver recording studio not far from his offseason home, Carolina Panthers All-Pro Christian McCaffrey, one of the most versatile gridders in a league full of elite hybrids, reveals the off-field obsession that could one day add a few new hyphenates to his job title: RB-pianist-songwriter-music producer.
As McCaffrey, 23, tickles the ivories, his pals Nick Shanholtz and Rob Abisi, better known as DJ duo Lost Kings, tackle the drums and bass guitar, respectively — while Levi Waddell, aka rapper Levi Todd, pens lyrics on the fly. What begins to emerge from this 90-minute recording session is a pop/hip-hop track that defies genre, much like the third-year pass-catching ball carrier who’s doing much of the quarterbacking here.
Eventually, the group gathers in the control room to assess the unfinished product. “I think it’s missing a layer,” McCaffrey says before sticking me on the cowbell because, as he says, he has “a fever, and the only prescription is … more cowbell!” When the laughter subsides, the versatile star adds a layer of his own via the harmonica, which he taught himself to play back at Stanford when he wasn’t busy trying to win the Heisman Trophy. I get the feeling we’ll be sitting here into the early morning hours laughing, fist-bumping and “adding layers” if I don’t play party pooper and pull McCaffrey aside for an interview.
ESPN: Why are we in a recording studio?
Christian McCaffrey: One of my big passions in the offseason, or just when I get time off in general, is playing music, and I’ve been fortunate to be around people who are a lot more talented than I am. I met Rob and Nick a long time ago, and every time I go to LA, I’ll hit them up and we’ll just jam in different genres. And Levi is one of my best buds from high school. First time we all jammed, it was a come-to-Jesus moment where we were like, “We should do something with this.”
What sparked your interest in performing?
My childhood neighbor played piano, and he told me we’d get all the girls if I learned how to play-and I was probably in eighth grade, going into high school, so I said, “Sign me up.” There was a talent show with a cash bonus, so we learned a little song together [Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”] and ended up winning it, took home one of those big checks, like in Happy Gilmore.
Who are your musical influences?
There’s a guy right now who’s probably my favorite: Tyler Childers, a country artist. I love his sound. I love Mac Miller. I’m a big Drake fan. I love Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley. I probably have the most versatile playlist in the world, from country to rap to classic rock to classical.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you listen to?
I’m proud of everything I have in my library.
I’ll give you one if you give me one: I like Taylor Swift.
I love Taylor Swift. I’m not ashamed of that. Why are you embarrassed by that?
You’re right: I love Taylor Swift.
There you go.
Could we hear an album one day?
[Laughs] That’d be really cool. We’ll see where it goes. I’m still learning. I’ve always played by watching somebody’s fingers and listening, but these last two weeks I told myself that I was gonna commit to learning how to read actual sheet music and trying to, like, classically train myself. It’s funny, I’m back at “Ants Go Marching.”
Can you write lyrics or sing?
I’ve written lyrics, but it’s not for me. And the downfall of my music career might be singing. [Laughs] I kind of have a vision of how somebody should perform a certain song.
You do seem to know exactly how it all fits together, like a producer.
That’s a fair description. Being able to produce music and grow a song from nothing is a lot of fun. With technology nowadays, I have a keyboard where I can play any instrument and do it all myself on the computer. And the beauty of it is, every once in a while you make something you like. Ed Sheeran said songs are weird — they come and go and you never know when they’ll show up.
Cam Newton has said you have “swagger through the roof.” What in the world could zap your swagger, besides a microphone?
[Laughs] That’s an honor coming from the Drip God, as he calls himself. But to answer your question: spiders. I’m not a fan of spiders. Not at all. I could do without insects.
So, if a spider dropped on your lap right now?
I’d freak out. Yeah, that’d be no good.
If you could do a collab with any teammate, who’d you have on your album?
I’d have Greg Olsen on the mic. He’s an electric singer. Anytime there’s a song on, he’s the first one belting it. Pregame, he’ll be belting out Adele, and it’s the best thing ever.
This offseason, we discovered another thing you’re good at: being ripped. What’s it like to go viral for a photo of your muscles?
[Laughs] The internet’s a crazy place. When I came into the league, I was 20, so naturally I’m getting bigger, faster, stronger. But I’m only about a pound or two heavier than last year. I like playing at around 207, and that’s what I’m at right now. But I’m definitely stronger. This is one of the first times that I’ve been able to train for a full offseason because I came out of the season healthy. That makes a huge difference.
Coming into the league, some doubted that you could be an every-down back — in part, let’s be real, because of the color of your skin. How did that make you feel at the time?
I just kinda let that pass, know what I mean? I get it, there’s not a whole lot of white running backs out there. [Laughs] It’s just the way it is. But every single NFL player has doubters. I’ve always fought the criticism that I can’t run between the tackles, but I feel like I’ve kind of put that to rest. [McCaffrey ranked first last year in yards per carry between the tackles among backs with 150-plus attempts.]
Because of your versatility and the versatility you afford an offense, The Ringer declared: “Christian McCaffrey is the future of football.” Do you think that’s true for you and guys like you?
Yeah, I do. The league is shifting. It’s becoming a smaller league, way more speed-dominant. So you’re seeing more backs like me who can run between the tackles, pass-protect, catch and become matchup nightmares. You also have more receivers who are getting jet sweeps, doing different things with the ball in their hands. A lot of it stems from college offenses. There’s very few pro-style college offenses nowadays, so you see NFL coaches adapting to the players that are coming in. That’s why [Panthers offensive coordinator] Norv Turner has been huge for me. He’s a guy who’s been in the league so long, but you constantly see him adapting.
He’s also a guy who’s coached some of the greats at your position.
Yeah, I’ve seen more LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles clips than anybody out there, and I hear stories all the time about those guys — Adrian Peterson, LT, all the guys I watched growing up. Knowing that their coach believes in me is something I really appreciate.
Last year you ran, caught or threw for 14 touchdowns. Where’s one place on the field that I can’t pay you to line up at?
[Laughs] You could pay me to line up anywhere if the money’s good.
Where would you like to line up and haven’t yet?
Oh man, I’d love to play safety. I played it when I was a kid, back when I was watching guys like Brian Dawkins and John Lynch come down full speed and hit someone. Or rush end! I always got a ball in my hand, so being able to let loose would be really fun. But Coach [Ron] Rivera would probably shut that down quick.
You’re a fantasy superstar. Have fantasy owners been showing their appreciation?
Every time I’m in public, somebody’s like, “Yo, thank you so much for my fantasy points last year.” I’ve had multiple waiters and waitresses give me free meals for helping them win their league. Hopefully I do it again this year, otherwise the tabs might go up.
Last season was a forgettable one for the Panthers. Give your fans reason for hope. Why will this year be different?
This is a team that’s a few years removed from the Super Bowl with a lot of the same guys from that team. We got great leaders with Luke Kuechly, Cam, Greg Olsen, and we just added Gerald McCoy, Chris Hogan, guys who’ve won in this league and know what it takes. We have the talent. It’s just a matter of staying healthy, executing on Sundays.
How would you assess your own leadership skills right now?
I’ve had more of a vocal presence this year. We’ve got a young running back room — so I’m able to verbalize things that I see for them. Other than that, I’m just working as hard as I can, showing guys what it takes. I’m lucky to have come into a team with guys like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen, who set the standard.
Your dad, Ed, won three Super Bowls, two here in Denver when you were a child. Do you have any memories of those wins?
My only memory is a picture on our wall from SI where I’m running on the field with confetti and a big ol’ blond ‘fro. I was [not quite] 2 and 3 when he won those. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen his rings. He keeps them locked up.
He’s afraid you’re gonna steal them?
[Laughs] No, he’s just a humble man. I want my own rings. One for every year that I play. That’s the goal.
What other goals have you set for yourself?
I got a lot of goals that I keep to myself, but one goal is definitely the 1K/1K club [1,000 yards rushing and receiving]. I almost did it last year and it was a bummer not getting it. Two guys have done it — Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig — and there’s a race to be the third. There’s a lot of backs in the league who can get there.
Yeah, in a time when backs are being devalued, there are a heck of a lot of good ones out there.
Especially in the NFC. I think Saquon [Barkley] is a great back. Todd Gurley. Zeke [Ezekiel Elliott]. David Johnson. Melvin Gordon. Phillip Lindsay, a hometown guy in Colorado. Alvin Kamara is a guy I’m watching constantly.
If you had to pick, which one do you want more: Football Hall of Fame or the rock ‘n’ roll one?
[Laughs] Both would be great. That might be a first. I’d never considered that one. There ya go, that’s another goal. Perfect.
Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman dies at age 58
Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman has died after a battle with cancer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced in a statement. He was 58.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Chris Doleman after a prolonged and courageous battle against cancer,” said David Baker, the Hall of Fame’s president and CEO. “I had the honor of getting to know him not only as a great football player but an outstanding human being. One of the honors of my life was witnessing Chris get baptized in the Jordan River during a Hall of Fame trip to Israel. The legacy of Chris Doleman will live forever in Canton, Ohio, for generations to learn from how he lived a life of courage and character.”
Doleman played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1985 to 1993 and ended his career with the club in 1999.
In 2018, he had surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Doleman, a first-round pick by the Vikings in the 1985 NFL draft, played for nine seasons in Minnesota before spending the 1994 and 1995 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and 1996-98 with the San Francisco 49ers. He wrapped up his career in Minneapolis as an eight-time Pro Bowler.
Doleman totaled 150.5 sacks, 22 coming during the 1989 season when he led the NFL, while adding eight interceptions and three touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
“The Minnesota Vikings express our deepest sympathies to Chris Doleman’s family and friends upon his passing,” the team said in a statement. “Chris was a great example for players past and present, as he embodied all the best characteristics of a Viking — resilience, toughness and a competitive spirit. Chris always carried himself with dignity and class. Vikings fans worldwide will greatly miss him.”
Source — Bears land top CFL free agent Tre Roberson
Cornerback Tre Roberson, viewed by many as the top Canadian Football League free agent this year, will sign with the Chicago Bears, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Roberson, 27, who played for the Calgary Stampeders, chose the Bears over nine other offers.
He had seven interceptions and 41 tackles last season for Calgary, while also scoring two touchdowns. Roberson played his college ball at Illinois State.
The Bears are expected to give Roberson the largest CFL-to-NFL compensation since the Miami Dolphins signed defensive end Cameron Wake in 2009 to a reported four-year, $4.9 million deal.
DeMaurice Smith outlines message for players ahead of NFLPA board meeting
MIAMI — Super Bowl week could be a critical week for the NFL’s collective bargaining negotiations, with 30 NFLPA team player reps scheduled to meet with union leadership Thursday for an update. Part of the message NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith wants to send to his players is that, if they want to dig in their heels on any one issue — including the owners’ push for an expanded, 17-game regular season — they have to be willing to take it all the way.
Smith spoke Tuesday at an AFSCME rally of Florida state workers in downtown Miami, and he told ESPN he considered the rally an appropriate backdrop for his message to his constituents.
“I’m here with a group of people who are willing to take a labor action,” Smith said, indicating the chanting disgruntled state workers in the plaza behind him. “And people need to understand that it’s really easy to call for a work stoppage; it’s really hard to win one. So that’s why I started notifying players four years ago about saving their checks, making changes to their debt structure, and the reality is that if we want to hold out and get everything we want, that’s probably going to mean a two-year strike.”
That echoes the message Smith was delivering as he made his annual visit to each of the 32 teams this past season. He’s trying to make sure the NFL’s players understand the collective bargaining process and the ways in which they can and can’t exert leverage.
“I refuse to ever look at any part of a deal with a myopic focus,” Smith said. “Any collective bargaining deal is going to be a package of things. Is it going to be an agreement where you get 100% of everything you want? Probably not, and one of the reasons that we’re in a position of bargaining right now is because the league didn’t get everything they wanted in 2011. If they would have retained the unilateral right to increase games, my guess is we wouldn’t be talking about the possibility of an early deal.”
The owners approached the players early in 2019 about opening negotiations on a new CBA. The current one expires in March of 2021, so at the time there were still two seasons left to play before expiration. The two sides negotiated throughout the summer and fall and reached agreement on several key issues. Smith wouldn’t comment on specifics, but the proposed new deal would, according to multiple sources, include changes to the league’s drug policy and discipline policy. It would include benefits improvements for current and retired players. It would include changes to training camp rules, limiting the amount of contact teams can have in training camp practices as well as the amount of time coaches can keep them on the field. In short, there are portions of the new deal that would benefit the players if they were in place in time for the 2020 season.
But the issue of expanding the regular season remains a thorny one. The owners’ current proposal would not expand the regular season immediately but would give them the option to expand the season to 17 games at some point during the life of the deal. Expanded playoffs also remain a possibility, and a shortened preseason would go hand-in-hand with any expansion of the season. Throughout the negotiations, the two sides have argued over how much the players’ share of revenue (currently no less than 47%) would have to rise in order to get them to agree to expand the season.
But in recent days, some prominent players have spoken out against the idea of a 17-game season under any conditions, and as a result some of the optimism regarding the potential of reaching a new deal this offseason has begun to fade. Smith made it clear Tuesday that he would do whatever the players wanted him to do, and that they would ultimately have a chance to vote on any deal he and his executive committee negotiated and recommended to them.
“We have a democratic process where I insist that players get all the facts, that they actually make the decisions, that they approach this in a serious, somber, responsible way because that’s what player leaders before them have had to do,” Smith said. “We have a system where the minority and everybody is heard, but at the end of the day, making players vote on all of the issues, to me, has always been important.”
The meeting Thursday will include player reps from 30 of the 32 teams — all but the 49ers and Chiefs, who are preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl. No vote is currently expected to be taken at that meeting, but the union hopes that everyone comes out of it with some idea of where things stand and what kind of action the players want to take going forward.
Whenever it is that players and owners agree on a proposed new CBA, the 32 team player reps would have to vote on it first, and it would need a two-thirds majority vote in order to advance to the next step. That next step is a vote of literally every single player in the league, and that would only require a simple majority to pass. The owners need two-thirds of their membership to support a new CBA before it can be ratified.
Assuming no vote is taken this week, the next likely flex point would be the NFLPA’s annual meeting in March in Key Biscayne. At that meeting the NFLPA will have to elect a new president, since current president Eric Winston is no longer on a team and therefore, according to the NFLPA’s rules, can no longer hold the position. In addition to that election, players likely will take some sort of CBA-related vote at their March meeting. Either they’d vote on a proposed new CBA or, if that’s not an option, they likely would hold a vote on whether to authorize a player strike in 2021 if no new deal is approved by then.
“The job of the union is to engage in good-faith negotiations, make sure that our players are informed, but at no time take it for granted that what is really needed is the ability of players to withstand a work stoppage and win it so that they come out of it better than before they went into it,” Smith said. “And if we are prepared to do that, and the players vote to take that action, we’ll be fine. But anything less than being fully prepared is wishful thinking, and perhaps cheap and dangerous talk.”
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