AROUND THE NFL
Peter King on the state of replay reform, with an interesting analogy from Saints coach Sean Payton:
I don’t think any change in the replay system, in the wake of the non-interference call in the NFC title game, could get the required 24 votes to change the system today. But that doesn’t mean by the time the league meets for the annual meetings in Phoenix on March 24 that there won’t be a rules proposal. In Indy, there was a feeling that Roger Goodell will push the Competition Committee and the membership to do something to cut down the chance for another debacle like that non-call in the Rams-Saints game.
“The big question, really, is what are you comfortable with as a deductible,” Saints coach and victim and Competition Committee member Sean Payton said. “Do you view the event in our game like a 50-year flood that’s not going to happen again and say, ‘Aaah, we’re not going to worry about it?’ Or are you going to pay the big deductible to make sure you’re insured against it? So I think there will some smart and serious discussion about expanding replay in a sensible and conservative way.”
Conservative, so the anti-replay teams don’t find a reason to automatically say no. I’ve got some ideas that I haven’t totally fleshed out yet that I’ll write about as early as next week in this column.
He also has John Harbaugh of the Ravens with a good point:
This happened in the AAF as noted by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
As the NFL contemplates whether to add a video official who would be responsible for correcting certain obvious blunders in real time, the Alliance of American Football already is using this approach. And, for the first time during the AAF’s inaugural season, the Sky Judge made a call that the officials on the field had missed.
It happened in the third quarter of Sunday’s game between the San Antonio Commanders and the Birmingham Iron. Commanders defensive back Duke Thomas applied a big hit to Birmingham receiver Tobias Palmer on a pass that fell incomplete. No flag was thrown on the field, but the Sky Judge intervened, ordering a penalty of Thomas for targeting a defenseless receiver.
“The Alliance added the Sky Judge to correct obvious and egregious officiating errors without going to replay and unnecessarily delaying the game,” AAF officiating consultant Dean Blandino said in a statement. “We place an emphasis on player safety, and want to ensure a win or loss doesn’t come down to a missed call.
“In this instance, the Sky Judge observed the hit on . . . Palmer and determined it was a violation of the defenseless player rule and put him at risk, so the decision was made to enforce a penalty. It was the first time the Sky Judge has come into play this season, and player safety is certainly a trigger for such a ruling.”
With the annual league meetings only three weeks away, here’s hoping the NFL is paying very close attention to what the AAF is doing when it comes to quick and easy ways to fix mistakes, to promote player safety, and, ultimately, to preserve the integrity of the game.
Then there is this from contrarian Jon Gruden:
“I don’t have any interest in expanding replay. I have a strong interest in eliminating replay.”
—Oakland coach Jon Gruden.
Todd Archer of ESPN.com on the return of TE JASON WITTEN:
When tight end Jason Witten walked away from football last May, his teammates gave him a long, standing ovation, recognizing a successful 15-year career that placed him among the greatest to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
It wasn’t just the catches, yards and touchdowns that made Witten great — it was the example he set in the locker room, at practice and during games.
Several of his teammates wrote an open letter to Witten via ESPN.com expressing their gratitude.
On Thursday, Witten ended his retirement, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cowboys that, according to sources, pays him $3.5 million with a possibility of $5 million with roster bonuses and incentives.
As it was from 2003 through 2017, the excitement regarding Witten’s return isn’t just about his ability to convert clutch third-down catches, but also for what he means off the field.
“When you think of the Dallas Cowboys, you think of him,” Cowboys Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin said. “But more than that, it’s his preparation, his leadership in the locker room, how he pushes himself every day to a new level.”
Witten will turn 37 in May. For more than a decade, he played nearly all of the snaps. With his return, the expectation is he will take a reduced role in the offense, serving as a mentor to young tight ends such as Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin and maybe even a potential draft pick, although coach Jason Garrett did not want to discuss playing time on Thursday.
“Playing football still tugged at his heart. I think he felt there was still some meat on the bone, some things he still wanted to accomplish,” Garrett told reporters. “I just think he loves it and wants to be in this environment. There is no doubt in his mind he can still play, and there is no doubt in my mind he can still play. Excited to have him back.”
In 2017, Witten caught 63 passes for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was added to the Pro Bowl as the first alternate, which meant he was viewed by his NFC peers as the third-best tight end in the conference.
Witten will not be asked to ride to the Cowboys’ rescue upon his return. As much as the Cowboys’ decision to go with a receiver-by-committee approach to replace Dez Bryant failed and necessitated the trade for Amari Cooper, the committee approach at tight end was solid.
Schultz, Jarwin, Geoff Swaim — who is set to be a free agent — and Rico Gathers combined for 66 catches for 710 yards and 4 touchdowns last season, roughly the same as Witten by himself.
In his first two years as a starter, quarterback Dak Prescott used Witten as a security blanket in tough situations. As Prescott starts his fourth pro season, he once again can look to Witten in those difficult scenarios. Plus, Prescott has completed 73.7 percent of his passes thrown to tight ends in his career, third highest in the NFL in the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“[Witten has] been productive anytime he has stepped on a football field,” Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee told ESPN. “There’s nothing he can’t do at that position, and that’s why he’s a Hall of Fame player.”
Garrett said his discussions with Witten about a return started a few weeks ago. Witten stepped up his workouts to test how his body felt. He wanted to make sure his desire to play matched the physical ability to play.
Witten missed just one game in his career, in his rookie season. He holds franchise records for games played (239), consecutive games (236) and consecutive starts (179). He also rarely missed practices, taking days off during training camp only late in his career at the demand of the coaching staff. He earned awards every year for his work in the offseason program given by the strength and conditioning coaches.
“He knows his body more than anyone else. He knows the demands of the game more than anybody to make an honest assessment of where he was physically,” Garrett said. “He was able to do that over the last few weeks. I think he felt good about it. We certainly feel great about having him come back to the team.”
Witten’s work ethic rubbed off on players throughout the locker room. If he was going to put in the work, they were going to put in the work. That’s why there was not a leadership void in his absence in 2018, because Prescott, Lee, Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyrone Crawford and others carried on what he taught them.
His teammates are excited to have him back.
“He’s definitely still going to be 82,” Crawford said. “He’s probably a little refreshed and ready to roll after taking a year off. I’m sure he’s ready to show what he’s got.”
Peter King on what might also be in play:
The other part of it: Witten and ESPN can spin it that this decision was about missing football, and I doubt ESPN would have moved Witten out of the “Monday Night Football” booth after one year. All reports say he would have returned for a second year. But he had a weak first year, and he would have had to rebound significantly in year two to keep his job in the booth. Not to say he wouldn’t have improved. He’s a smart guy. I just wonder—I tried to get Witten over the weekend, and he did not respond to my text—if he figured at some point that the gig just wasn’t for him.
When you do national NFL games, every word you say is parsed, and those parsings last fall made Witten seen totally unprepared for the booth. The Wittenism that left me shaking my head last year came well into the season, in November, in a Tennessee-Houston game, when the subject was J.J. Watt. ESPN played some footage of Watt (I think it was Witten versus Watt from a previous Cowboys-Texans game), and the question to Witten was about what it was like to play against Watt. I don’t remember the quote, but Witten was looking for something insightful to say, and he ended up giving us some iteration of, When you play J.J. Watt, you better bring your lunchpail because he’s such a blue-collar player and it’ll be a long day. I mean, Witten should have taken us on the field with him and tell us what it was like to line up across from Watt—what it felt like, what Watt’s first step out of the blocks was like to counter, what his strength was like compared to other big defensive ends. But we got a cliché. As I said, he could have gotten better with time. Whether it ever would have been good enough is the question.
QB MATT SCHAUB, now 38, has signed a two-year extension with the Falcons to not play behind MATT RYAN.
The 49ers have signed starting RG MIKE PERSON to an extension. ESPN.com:
The San Francisco 49ers and starting right guard Mike Person have reached agreement on a three-year, $9 million deal that includes $3 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Person was scheduled to become a free agent.
The 49ers signed Person late in June of last year with hopes that he could offer some depth and versatility as a backup on the offensive line. As it turned out, Person provided much more than that, starting all 16 games at right guard.
Person’s durability also earned him points from the Niners players and coaches as he fought through a foot injury for most of the season. He provides experience playing all over the line, and his solid performance as a starter earned him a new contract in San Francisco.
Person began his career as a seventh-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2011 and has bounced around to Indianapolis, Seattle, the Rams, Atlanta, Kansas City, Indianapolis again and back to the Niners in his eight seasons. He has started 34 games in that time while appearing in 59 games.
A tag for edge rusher DEE FORD. ESPN.com:
The Kansas City Chiefs are placing their franchise tag on linebacker Dee Ford and plan to have him in their lineup this season, but with the change to a 4-3 defensive scheme, they will listen to trade offers for him, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Chiefs intend to switch their base defensive scheme to a 4-3 under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, which likely would mean a move to defensive end for Ford, who played that position in college before moving to linebacker for Kansas City.
The one-year franchise tender for linebackers is expected to be about $15.8 million, although an exact amount has yet to be set. Ford made about $8.7 million last season after the Chiefs exercised the fifth-year option of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2014.
Ford, who will turn 28 on March 19, finally became the player in 2018 that the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him in the first round out of Auburn. He started all 16 games for the first time in his career and had a career-high 13 sacks. He also was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for the first time.
He said late in the regular season that he would sign the one-year franchise tender if selected, calling the decision a “no-brainer.” And the team’s decision to do so didn’t come as a surprise.
Here is an update on WR ANTONIO BROWN, including the sage advice of WR LARRY FITZGERALD:
With Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers almost certainly headed for divorce, the star wide receiver faces a future without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. However, one future Hall of Famer cautioned Brown that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“I love AB. Mr. Big Chest is a good friend of mine, but I don’t think he’s going about it the right way, personally,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Saturday while speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “To be able to play with an all-time quarterback like he’s able to play with, I don’t think he understands how good he has it. It can get tough out there.”
Fitzgerald, the league’s active leader in receiving yards (16,279) and touchdowns (116), knows not all quarterbacks are created equal. He is entering the 16th year of a career that has been spent entirely with the Cardinals, where he has caught at least one pass from 19 different QBs.
Conversely, Brown has spent all nine of his seasons with the Steelers and Roethlisberger but expects passes in season No. 10 to come from someone not wearing a No. 7 Steelers jersey.
“I would’ve liked for me and Ben to be cool. You know what I mean? I thought we was cool. But when I think … I’ve been to his house one time. He’s been to my house one time. You know what I mean?” Brown told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington of his relationship with Roethlisberger. “We don’t work out in the offseason. You think that’s winning? That’s not winning.”
In addition to his relationship with Roethlisberger, Brown also talked about situations with coach Mike Tomlin and ownership that contributed to his desire to get out of Pittsburgh.
“Why wouldn’t they not trade me? They gotta pay me $2.5 million on March 17,” Brown told Darlington. “If I invoice you March 17, $2.5 million that you gotta pay me, would you pay it or would you get somebody else to pay it? So it’s what — pretty much what’s good for their business.”
Brown is owed a $2.5 million roster bonus if he is not traded or released by the Steelers before March 17.
The three teams that have shown the most interest in Brown to date are the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Of those three teams, only the Raiders had one quarterback start every game last season.
This from Peter King:
There is real competition for Antonio Brown in trade, and I expect the Steelers to trade him as early as this week—but almost certainly before the March 17 deadline to pay Brown a $2.5 million roster bonus. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Brown’s chief suitors were Oakland, Tennessee and Washington, and I heard Saturday night there could be at least one more serious team. What Schefter’s three teams have in common: a strong head coach (Jon Gruden, Mike Vrabel, Jay Gruden) who won’t be afraid of bringing an incendiary device like Brown into the locker room. My gut feeling is the Steelers will get the first-round pick they’ve been angling to get for Brown, who turns 31 in July.
On Saturday night, I was talking about Brown’s fate with a long-time NFL GM and we discussed this point: Imagine Brown’s market—even after his disappearing act in the Steelers’ playoff-implications game in Week 17—if he’d said nothing and posted nothing Steelers-related on social media over the last two months. He continued over the weekend, telling LeBron James on his HBO show “The Shop” that he doesn’t take blame for the dissolution of his relationship with the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And he told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington: “I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want. I don’t even need the game … If they [other teams] want to play, they gonna play by my rules. If not, I don’t need to play.”
Is there anyone out there who can save Antonio Brown from himself?
As I reported a couple of weeks ago, Brown’s social rants took at least one team out of the trade market. Maybe Brown gets some pleasure out of damaging his market value so the Steelers won’t get as much in return. But there’s no question in my mind that he’s thrown cold water on his market, and some teams think he’d potentially be the kind of distraction—though a great player—that they don’t want.
The Raiders make the most sense. They have the ammo, with overall picks 4, 24, 27 and 35, and Jon Gruden needs a deep threat the way he needs oxygen. They have $72.9 million in cap room, according to Over The Cap. And if Jon Gruden is willing to re-do Brown’s contract after this season to add significant guaranteed money in 2020, Brown could be the three/four-year weapon to key the Oakland offense. (Smart money is on Brown playing 2019 under his old deal, a total of $15.125 million in salary and bonus; then, if he’s good on the field and not distracting off it, he could get a new contract. If he insists on a new deal day one, well, that’s going to be a problem.)
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com isn’t so sure there will be a trade:
As Antonio Brown tries to talk his way out of Pittsburgh, he’s also potentially talking his way out of other possible NFL cities before he even arrives. Which could set the stage for a fight between player and team that will make the Eagles vs. T.O. look like a mild dinner-table disagreement.
Although Brown has largely curtailed his social-media agitation since Mr. Big Chest met with the Steelers’ Mr. Big, Brown’s comments on HBO’s The Shop coupled with his remarks to ESPN will make it harder, not easier, for the Steelers to find a trade partner. Which will make it more likely that the Steelers eventually will give Brown the “play for us or play for no one” ultimatum, based by the leverage that comes from $11.4 million in unearned signing bonus money that Brown, if he chooses not to play for the Steelers, would have to repay.
Brown nevertheless seems to be confident that the Steelers will take the best trade offer, from a team he finds suitable, that’s on the table before Brown’s $2.5 million roster bonus becomes due on March 17.
“Why wouldn’t they not trade me?” Brown told ESPN. “They gotta pay me $2.5 million on March 17. If I invoice you March 17, $2.5 million that you gotta pay me, would you pay it or would you get somebody else to pay it? So it’s what — pretty much what’s good for their business. . . . They want to start a fresh offseason with no bad blood so their team could just focus on football. No distraction from any player. So I think they’ll get it done.”
Although Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert told PFT Live this week that the team could pay the money and still trade Brown later, the Steelers could pursue other strategies. They could suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team, place him on the reserve/suspended list, take the position that he’s not on the roster, and refuse to pay the money. They also could regard his comments about wanting out of Pittsburgh coupled with his remarks about not needing football as an indication that he intends to retire absent a trade, and they can place him on the reserve/retired list, forcing him to file a grievance based on the argument that he actually isn’t retired, and that he’s committed to playing for the Steelers.
Or they could just pay the money and use it as added leverage to compel him to show up and play for the Steelers this year, since the $2.5 million would be added to the $11.4 million that he already has received but not earned.
Brown seems to be banking on the team’s desire to turn the page on a potential distraction, and thus he’s willing to make as much of a distraction as possible in order to get the Steelers to move on, even if he resents being regarded as a distraction. Unless the planets align before March 17, with a team for which Brown is willing to play giving the Steelers what they want and giving Brown what he wants and being willing to assume the risk that a guy who says “if they wanna play, they going to play by my rules” means what he says, the Steelers will have to decide whether to pay Brown the money and keep trying to trade him or pay Brown the money and ultimately keep him, even if he doesn’t want to stay, with a plan to embrace the distraction and use the $13.9 million in unearned pay as leverage to get him to realize how good he has it and move forward.
However it plays out, Brown is openly daring the Steelers to play hardball. At some point, maybe they will.
The Jaguars have seemed from the get go to be the most likely team to sign NICK FOLES. It looks like it is going to happen.
Barring any last-minute snags, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to sign free-agent quarterback Nick Foles to a multiyear contract when the new league year opens next week, according to sources.
Teams are not allowed to talk deals with free agents until March 11, and no deals can be announced until the start of the new league year on March 13.
The Jaguars are expected to release quarterback Blake Bortles and install Foles as their starter. Jacksonville will have to pay $6.5 million of Bortles’ 2019 salary, which was fully guaranteed when he signed his current contract last year.
The Jaguars’ expected signing of Foles was first reported by Philly.com.
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Wednesday that the team would not place the franchise tag on Foles, leaving him a free agent.
“He deserves an opportunity to lead a team,” Roseman said.
The organization had been entertaining the idea of placing the tag on Foles to facilitate a trade, but the decision likely means they were unable to find a deal that worked. By letting him walk, the Eagles are expected to receive a compensatory pick as high as a third-rounder in 2020.
Foles’ potential market shrank when the Denver Broncos traded for Joe Flacco, leaving Jacksonville as Foles’ only known suitor. The Jaguars hired John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator in January. DeFilippo was Foles’ quarterbacks coach with the Eagles in 2017.
Foles’ primary objective this offseason was to find a team he could call his own following two incredible seasons as Carson Wentz’s backup. He opted out of his contract with the Eagles by paying them back $2 million in February.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets are in the market for stalwart offensive linemen according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:
Mark Sanchez provided some positive moments as a rookie in 2009, but the New York Jets really haven’t derived this much optimism from a young quarterback since Chad Pennington in 2002. Pennington’s chance to be great was undermined by shoulder injuries. The biggest threat to Sam Darnold is his own team — specifically, the front office. The onus is on general manager Mike Maccagnan & Co. to protect the team’s most valuable asset by building a strong offensive line.
The Jets might have something special in Darnold, and they can’t blow it by letting him become a human pinata. They know this, and from all indications, they plan to make a major push in free agency to rebuild the wall in front of their 21-year-old quarterback.
“I would say right now that’s a position that we’re going to look very strongly at in free agency,” Maccagnan said at the NFL scouting combine. “It’s definitely an area we want to improve upon.”
The Jets have two vacancies on the offensive line — center and left guard. Spencer Long, who took most of the snaps last season at center (and several of them were quite adventurous), was released recently in a salary-cap move and signed with the Buffalo Bills. Left guard James Carpenter, coming off shoulder surgery, will be an unrestricted free agent and likely won’t be re-signed.
League insiders believe the Jets will use free agency to address the line issues, saving the draft to attack other weaknesses. With only three picks in the top 94 — No. 3, 68 and 94 — it won’t be easy to find quick fixes in the draft, but it would be a mistake to ignore the position completely. That has been the case for too long. For some reason, Maccagnan seems averse to picking linemen. In four drafts, he has picked only two — right tackle Brandon Shell (fifth round, 2016) and guard Jarvis Harrison (fifth round, 2015). Harrison never played for the Jets; Shell is a two-year starter.
Instead of creating a pipeline by drafting and developing, Maccagnan has been throwing free-agent money at the problem. There needs to be a balance. He should look at the Indianapolis Colts, who, after years of neglect, finally made a commitment last offseason to improve their line. As a result, Andrew Luck stayed healthy and played like the Luck of old. They probably saved his career.
Memo to the Jets: Don’t push your luck by putting Darnold in harm’s way. Let’s take a look at how they plan to address the line, which was lackluster in 2018:
Guard: Word around the combine is the Jets will try to sign Los Angeles Rams free agent Rodger Saffold, a 2010 second-round pick and a longtime starter at left guard. He allowed only two sacks in the past two seasons. The concern with Saffold is that he will be 31. In recent years, Maccagnan has avoided multiyear contracts for players over 30, but maybe he feels pressure to expedite the rebuilding process. It looks like they will stick with Brian Winters at right guard.
Center: Two free agents on the Jets’ radar are the Kansas City Chiefs’ Mitch Morse, 27, and the Denver Broncos’ Matt Paradis, 29. Morse hasn’t allowed a single sack over the past three seasons, according to STATS, but he has had concussion issues and missed 14 games over the past two years. Paradis was a rock of durability from 2015 to 2017, but he’s still recovering from a surgically repaired fibula. On Wednesday, Broncos GM John Elway called it “a pretty significant injury.” He said he’s interested in re-signing Paradis, but he added, “Matt has been a great warrior for us for four years. But, obviously, with the injury that he had, that changes the thought process. We’ll have to see where that falls.” The top center in the draft is NC State’s Garrett Bradbury, according to Scouts, Inc. He’s projected as a second rounder; the Jets don’t have a second-round pick.
Tackle: The Jets could stand pat with Kelvin Beachum and Shell, who’s coming off knee surgery, but they have to think long term at left tackle. Beachum, entering the final year of his contract, isn’t viewed as Darnold’s blindside protector of the future. The Jets might have some interest in Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith, but there’s talk he will get the franchise tag. Trent Brown, 26, is an intriguing option, but he will be pricey, and some say he’s a product of the New England Patriots’ system. The Jets might be better off looking for a left tackle in the draft.
The marching orders are clear. It’s an SOS: Save Our Sam.
THIS AND THAT
Peter King, of NBC, thoughtfully carries a message to ESPN:
I’ve got a lot of respect for the former NFL safety and current ESPN NFL analyst. In the wake of Jason Witten leaving the ESPN booth and returning to play tight end of the Cowboys, I don’t know who will replace Witten. I suppose ESPN will try to throw sick money at Peyton Manning—who has a smash hit on his hands in the “Detail” series on quarterbacks—and who knows? He’s been retired for four years and maybe he’s interested. But if not him, maybe Matt Hasselbeck.
But here’s who really, really wants the job and would be good at it, I think: Louis Riddick. I asked him for my podcast Friday about whether he’d want the gig. “Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. Look. I would crush that role. I would love it. Love every second of it. Every kid in my situation grew up watching Monday Night Football. To do that on Monday night… it gives you goosebumps thinking about it. And would love it, absolutely love it.”
The lovefest is on for QB KYLER MURRAY reports Peter King from Indy.
It’s Kyler Murray’s Combine, followed by Kyler Murray’s Pro Day, followed by the spring of Kyler Murray Rumors, followed by, mercifully, the first round of the NFL Draft on April 25 and the official landing place of Kyler Murray.
Who, by the way, did nothing here over three days except measure taller than he was supposed to (by a whole quarter of an inch!), talk to 10 teams, and geek out over seeing the coaches he’s been watching on TV for years.
Until the defensive linemen ran fast on Sunday, the player who did nothing here was the mega-story. A lot of it was the size thing. “I’m just sitting here and I’m on the TV. You can’t really get away from it,” a bemused Murray said in his only media availability here, a 40-question, 20-minute session with reporters Friday. But this was more than the mania over 5-10 1/8. Murray’s fate and his story just hung over the whole shebang. “I don’t know any player who’s attracted as much attention at any Combine that I’ve ever seen,’’ Combine guru Gil Brandt said Sunday night. Kim Jones said on NFL Network on Saturday that people around the league believed “almost universally” that Murray would be the first pick in the draft, by Arizona. Draft analyst Tony Pauline reported Sunday that Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury was saying at the combine that Murray to the Cardinals is a “done deal.”
I don’t know enough about either of those reports to confirm them, and I do believe there’s a good chance the Cardinals take Murray number one. I can say five things about Murray and this draft after doing some legwork at the combine Friday and Saturday:
1. GM Steve Keim has final say on Cardinals personnel, including the draft. I would be shocked if today, 53 days before the draft and not having had a private workout nor a long conversation with Murray, that Keim has decided to pick Murray. “I don’t believe it for a second,” said Greg Gabriel, a veteran of 31 NFL drafts as a scout. “Could he have the lead in the clubhouse now? Sure. But nobody makes decisions like that this far out, without doing their due diligence.”
2. There are two Josh Rosen problems. Last year, Arizona traded third-round and fifth-round picks to move up five slots in the first round to choose the UCLA quarterback. So now, if they pick Murray, the Cardinals would have to dump Rosen after 13 shaky starts, and it’s a tricky proposition. “The danger is, you start to shop Rosen, and everyone knows you’re picking Murray,” said former NFL front-office man Mike Lombardi.
3. Rosen Problem 2: What could you get in trade for him? Miami (13th pick in the first round), Washingon (15), the Chargers (28) and New England (32) would be worth investigating … unless the compensation for Rosen has crashed. I asked Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who lives in Arizona and watched Rosen last year, what he thinks the value for Rosen is. “I would give a three for Josh,” Warner said. A third-round pick. Yikes. Saturday night, I asked a renowned NFL GM what he thought the value of Rosen in trade would. “Probably a three,” the GM said. “Not what the Cardinals would think his value is.” Scary, on the surface, for Arizona. But if you’ve decided you want Murray, and you’ve decided Rosen’s not your guy, you’ve got to move on, regardless what you get for Rosen.
4. Oakland coach Jon Gruden, picking fourth, loves Murray. He and GM Mike Mayock have gone out of their way to say multiple times that Derek Carr is their quarterback. Maybe they’re rock-solid on Carr, and maybe it’ll be a moot point if the Cardinals stay at number one. But with all their draft loot in the next two drafts (five first-round picks), and with Gruden’s crush on Murray, the Raiders bear watching.
5. Murray met with 10 teams in Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t read a lot into that. The usual suspects were among the 10 teams—Arizona, Oakland, the Giants, Jacksonville, Miami and Washington. But he also met with Detroit, Seattle and the Chargers. Detroit. Hmmm. Seattle: probably just fact-finding. I’m not sure of the 10th team. But as I said, don’t read too much into that.
Smart take from Kyle Shanahan about the rise of shorter quarterbacks: “You see one person do it and other people realize it’s possible. You watch snowboarding and people never thought you could do more than two 360s. Then all of a sudden someone does three of them. A year later, 10 people can do it.
“Yeah, we’d all like tall guys with the biggest arm in the world who can run faster than everyone and know how to play quarterback. But Drew Brees is as good as anyone who’s ever played. He’s a smarter one. The odds are, if you’re taller, it should be easier; if you’re faster, it should be easier; if you have a better arm, it should be easier. But like I’ll say about every position: There are no absolutes about anything.”
This from Kurt Warner:
“It’s a very average group. Kyler Murray’s probably the pick of the litter, though he’s very polarizing among teams. There’s a lot to like about Dwayne Haskins, who has a good arm and played very well last year at Ohio State. But to me, I don’t believe either one is as good as Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold from last year.
“After Murray and Haskins, every guy in this group has limitations. So when I look at this crop, I see maybe two starters in the NFL. Not to say other guys can’t develop into starters, but Murray and Haskins are the ones I like, and I wouldn’t bank on any of the others to become reliable starters in the league.
“[Buffalo’s] Tyree Jackson is technically all over the place. I think he’s a huge project, but a fascinating one. [Duke’s] Daniel Jones, to get the momentum to make those big throws downfield, had to take some pretty big hitches. [West Virginia’s] Will Grier—I didn’t feel he had great accuracy, and not a lot of mustard on the ball. [North Carolina State’s] Ryan Finley is limited when he gets on the move—that’s when his lack of arm strength shows up. I do like how he plays with his mind, from what I studied.
“In general, I don’t think it’s a consistent group.”
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King also has this on a defensive end running faster than WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.:
Not sure about this, but I think Rich Eisen could be heard in Terre Haute on Sunday when Mississippi State pass rusher Montez Sweat neared the finish line in his 40-yard dash. “Four four TWOOOO?!!!!” Eisen yelled to his NFL Network audience. Actually, Sweat ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds, the fastest time in combine history for a defensive lineman … and faster than Odell Beckham Jr. (4.43), ran at the combine five years ago. Then, LSU linebacker Devin White ran a 4.40 time, the fastest ever by a linebacker.
Montez Sweat just ran a 4.42u 40-yard dash. If it stands, it’ll be the fastest by a DL since ’03 🔥
This could be an unprecedented draft for defensive players. One veteran regional scout said Saturday night he guessed there could be 21 to 23 defensive players picked in the first round in April. Four of the top five picks could well be front-seven players: Pass-rusher Nick Bosa (didn’t hurt himself and showed pre-core-injury explosion Sunday), defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (ran an impressive 4.83 at 303 pounds), pass rusher Josh Allen (faster than Bosa, and as competitive) and White, the rising linebacker. And Murray. But it’s way early.
Who is Montez Sweat?
Enrolled at Michigan State in 2014, played sparingly, transferred to a junior college, enrolled at Mississippi State in 2017, and was Pro Football Focus’ 83rd-rated college player in 2018—behind quarterbacks at North Texas and Ohio University. Seems likely to be overdrafted. As one scout who’s studied Sweat for his NFC team said late Sunday: “Some plays he’s unblockable, but exceedingly inconsistent.”
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And another snippet from Peter King (where we note the appearance of our down-the-draft favorite RYAN FINLEY):
I sat in Lucas Oil Stadium with some media peers to watch the first session of quarterbacks throw Saturday—the Dwayne Haskins/Drew Lock/Daniel Jones/Tyree Jackson/Will Grier/Ryan Finley (among others) group. All this is, an hour watching these guys, is a snapshot. But three guys who stuck out:
• Ohio State’s Haskins, who throws a beautiful ball and can throw it 55 yards near the target effortlessly;
• North Carolina State’s Finley, who was accurate and mechanically sound;
• Penn State’s Trace McSorley. Trace McSorley? The guy who was likely one of the last of the 17 quarterbacks invited to the combine in the eyes of NFL scouts, and who turned down a request to work with the safeties. No, he said; he’s a quarterback. I don’t know if he will be, but he impressed me throwing the ball, particularly on the 25-yard outs that every passer had to throw. He was the fastest (4.57 in the 40) quarterback on site, with Murray not running, and had a little quickness to him too. I thought of him as a backup QB, special-teams weapon, and maybe receiver, a guy who could be your 51st player, active some week and inactive others.
So I asked Sean Payton about McSorley on Sunday night. “When I looked at him, my first thought was, ‘I wonder if he can be [Julian] Edelman?’ I wondered if he could be a versatile kind of guy.”
I’ll be fascinated to see his NFL fate. He might not get drafted, but he’ll be a hard free-agent (if that’s his lot) for a team to cut. “Nobody’s gonna outwork me,” McSorley said. “They’re gonna have to drag me off the field.”