The New Orleans Saints will play the Miami Dolphins this Thursday in their final preseason matchup. Fellow CSC writer Chris Dunnells provided us with a great preview and included a few interesting storylines.
In the past few days, another intriguing storyline has developed around the Saints’ next opponent. The Dolphins appear to be actively shopping a few notable names on their roster including linebacker Kiko Alonso and wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Saints fans should remember Stills from his first two years in the league. Drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma, Stills was never as dominant as Michael Thomas, but he was a legitimate downfield threat way before Ted Ginn Jr. joined the fold.
As a member of the Saints, Stills played in 31 of 32 games while racking up 95 receptions, 1,572 yards, 71 first downs, and eight touchdowns. He also averaged a whopping 17.4 yards per reception during that span with Drew Brees as his quarterback.
Because the Saints drafted Stills so late in the draft, he only cost the Saints about a half million dollars each of those years as well. In hindsight, I still have no idea why the Saints unloaded Stills for oft-injured linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third round pick who later became P.J. Williams. Apparently, I even wrote an article looking back at that trade’s outcome.
Of course, P.J. Williams has finally redeemed himself and currently looks to be the Saints’ strongest option at nickel cornerback despite the team investing more money and contract length to Patrick Robinson. Stills, on the other hand, has not appeared to reach his full potential with the Dolphins after showing so much promise with the Saints.
Stills has found his way into the end zone more over the past four seasons, including a nine touchdown season in 2017. He’s also maintained a very impressive 15.7 yards per reception average despite having to catch passes from the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, and Brock Osweiler.
Yet, Stills has never replicated his totals with the Saints from the 2014 season with regard to receptions (63), yards (931), and first downs (47). Just imagine if the Saints never traded Stills and he continued to grow alongside one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Well, we just might have the chance to see it after all. There are many dominoes that need to fall first, however, and they are complicated and sometimes politically nuanced dominoes at that.
It’s no secret that the Dolphins are shopping Stills at this very moment. Head coach Brian Flores and team owner Stephen Ross can say cutting or trading Stills is a football or business decision all they want, but my eyes are wide open to the real reason why Stills’ future is in the air.
After Stills criticized Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL, Flores attracted a lot of press by playing eight straight Jay-Z songs during practice last week in order to “challenge” Stills to perform better no matter the distraction.
Then Stills criticized Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross for holding a fundraiser for Trump despite its’ obvious conflict with the mission of Ross’ non-profit RISE (Ross Initiative for Sports Equality). The player and owner have “agreed to disagree” and move on to the business of football, supposedly.
“The tweet doesn’t, like, put me against Mr. Ross,” Stills said last week. “I don’t have any hard feelings toward him. There’s no, like, beef. It’s just like, ‘Hey, these two things don’t align. And maybe somebody else hasn’t told you, but I’m letting you know.’ It’s important to me that the work that we’re doing isn’t just lip service. It’s real. Everything that I do has been real from the very beginning.”
“There’s not much to argue about,” Stills said. “He has his feelings about it, and he stands firm in that, and I respect that. But I disagree, and I told him there’s no hard feelings. There’s no beef, and let’s win some games this year.”
Ross’ choice to financially support a president who has called for protesting players to be removed from the league is a blatant conflict of interest for an owner of a football team. It’s easy to see why Stills fully understands the tenuousness of his employment.
Everyone is free to disagree with Stills’ method of protesting by continuing to take a knee, but everyone should also respect the immense potential professional sacrifice Stills has made by speaking his truth. The activist has maturity and awareness beyond his years, and he knew that just because the team supported him the past, that didn’t mean they would support him in the future.
“If something happens here and the staff gets flipped around, I definitely think it is something that will be brought up,” Stills told ESPN in December weeks before Adam Gase was fired as head coach.
“I’m prepared for it. I save my money. I love playing ball. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, but I know I can do something else. I’d hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope my work over the last three years speaks for itself. But I’ve seen it happen in this league and things change. I’m prepared if I end up on the street and nobody signs me. I’m fine with it.”
If you think Stills doesn’t put his money and time where his mouth is, here’s a list of his accomplishments off the field since being traded to the Dolphins.
- Two time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee
- Three time Dolphins’ Nat Moore Community Service Award
- Named a “Luminary Icon” by the LGBTQ rights group SAVE
- Visited the Miami VA Healthcare System
- Led a town hall meeting and spearheaded a RISE to Vote campaign that resulted in the entire team being registered to vote for the first time ever
- Mentored children and educated himself and others about civil rights
- Started a Miami branch of the OK Program, a mentoring non-profit that connects young black men with black police officers
- Multiple police ride alongs with the Dolphins Football unites program that seeks to bring communities and police together peacefully
- Attended the Know Your Rights camp which empowers youth in their community and teaches them various ways to interact with law enforcement in addition to building self-empowerment and motivation
I know what some of you might be thinking while reading this. Doesn’t Drew Brees dislike the method of protest through kneeling during the national anthem? Doesn’t Gayle Benson support Trump like Ross does?
Well, I don’t see Brees or Benson disliking Saints linebacker and super activist Demario Davis.
Davis has worked tirelessly in criminal justice reform and even invited Benson to tour the New Orleans jail system. Since then, she has poured thousands of dollars into and offered office space in Benson tower to Operation Restoration, which “supports women and girls impacted by incarceration to recognize their full potential, restore their lives, and discover new possibilities.”
Operation Restoration’s mission is to get rid of the individual and structural barriers to higher education, while helping women establish economic security and civic participation in their communities.
Benson has become more comfortable using her power and influence to help combat social injustice. Wouldn’t Stills fit in nicely? Besides, the Saints have $7,891,754 in cap space while Stills is owed $8 million this year and $7 million next year before his contract expires.
I’m not saying the Saints should trade for him. In fact, I don’t think the Saints should even think about that. Trading for Stills would cost too much money not to mention possible draft assets. He is nursing a minor leg injury which is also concerning, but if that’s not going to affect his availability this season, the Saints should do their due diligence in contacting him in the event he’s cut.
If that ends up being the case, the Saints can pay him a more reasonable rate from that cap space without losing any future assets. I mean, the Saints are paying Cameron Meredith and Coby Fleener more than $3 million each this season and they aren’t even on the team anymore. You can’t tell me Stills wouldn’t be an instant upgrade from any of the Saints wide receivers not name Michael Thomas.
Larry Holder wrote back in 2015 that the Saints traded Stills because of immaturity issues. I have no freaking clue what those issues entailed, but Stills has shown over the past four years that he’s anything but immature. And, oh yeah, he’s really fast and catches footballs well, too.