The Daily Briefing Thursday, March 2, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

GM Scot McCloughan is not in Indianapolis.  Zac Jackson at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Washington General Manager Scot McCloughan is not at the NFL Scouting Combine, and a team spokesman told the Washington Post that McCloughan is “taking care of some family matters.”

 

McCloughan told the Washington Post Wednesday evening that he’s not in Indianapolis due to a death in the family.

 

This year’s NFL Scouting Combine runs through Monday. More than 300 prospects for this year’s draft are going through medical, psychological and physical tests as well as interviewing with key decision makers from all 32 teams.

 

McCloughan is beginning his third season on the job. He previously held the general manager’s role with the 49ers for the 2008-09 seasons.

 

More from CBSDC.com which implies, actually more than implies, that something else is afoot.

 

Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan was sent home from the team on Feb. 20, a source has told 106.7 The Fan, and he is not at this week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

 

Reached for comment, McCloughan texted that he is away dealing with the death of his 100-year-old grandmother.

 

His grandmother, Marie Bessie McCloughan, died on Feb. 6, according to an obituary in the Loveland (Colo.) Reporter-Herald newspaper. The paper reported that the funeral was scheduled for Feb. 13.

 

McCloughan said the report that he’d been ordered to stay away from Redskins Park on Feb. 20 was “not true”. He said it would “take seven days” to go through the funeral process for his grandmother.

 

Multiple Redskins officials were seen entering the Crowne Plaza hotel in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening for interviews with college draft prospects. Among them were coach Jay Gruden, senior personnel executive Doug Williams, director of pro personnel Alex Santos and multiple scouts. Neither McCloughan nor team president Bruce Allen were seen entering the meeting.

 

Washington’s front office is in the middle of a hectic time. McCloughan and his staff are primarily responsible for the draft, which is April 27. The NFL Combine is a major part of that effort and March is a month full of college Pro Days. The Redskins are still hoping to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract. They used the franchise tag on him Tuesday.

 

McCloughan has been shielded from reporters for months. He last spoke at a formal podium session last May 4 after the 2016 draft. He did not talk to reporters at all at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. in late January, politely declining requests. He did not hold a press conference after the season, either. Last month, Redskins radio analyst and former tight end Chris Cooley openly speculated on air that McCloughan was drinking.

 

The 46-year-old McCloughan has had issues with alcohol before. He was fired as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 and lost a job as a senior personnel executive with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Writer Seth Wickersham chronicled McCloughan’s alcohol dependence in a Dec. 2014 ESPN The Magazine article. McCloughan cooperated on the piece and within a month was hired by Washington as its general manager.

 

McCloughan repeatedly denied that he had been sent away from the team on Feb. 20.

 

“I’m taking care of my family, plain and simple,” McCloughan said.

 

Yet the same source told 106.7 The Fan that McCloughan had been marginalized in recent months. Williams has taken on a larger role in his absence.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Although the Buccaneers say they are not going to lose QB MIKE GLENNON without a fight, Ian Rapoport names the Jets and Bears as teams that are interested in his services.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Asked about his backup quarterback on Wednesday, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told reporters: “We’d love to have Mike (Glennon) back in a perfect scenario.”

 

Don’t plan on it. Set to hit free agency next month, Glennon already has a pair of teams zeroing in on his services.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that both the Jets and Bears have emerged as potential landing spots for the fifth-year passer.

 

Chattered about for years as an offseason trade target, Glennon has all but vanished off the radar since Tampa Bay drafted quarterback Jameis Winston.

 

The 2013 third-round pick has thrown just 11 passes over the past two seasons after tallying 18 starts over his first two campaigns with the Bucs.

 

An extra-tall specimen at 6-foot-7, Glennon offers teams a strong arm and moments of promise on film. He’s far from perfect, but his rash of starts also came behind a Tampa line that doubled as a comprehensive train wreck before Winston arrived.

 

The Bears and Jets make sense as potential suitors: Chicago is certain to part ways with Jay Cutler, while two of last year’s arms — Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley — are set to become free agents. New York, meanwhile, could use a veteran ahead of Bryce Petty and the tucked-away Christian Hackenberg.

 

With the Bears picking at No. 3 and the Jets at No. 6, it makes sense to mine the veteran free-agent heap unless either franchise is truly in love with one of this year’s signal-calling draft prospects.

 

With no evolutionary version of Andrew Luck emerging, Glennon has a very real shot to start games for someone, somewhere in 2017.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Like Redskins QB KIRK COUSINS, CB TRUMAINE JOHNSON is playing tag again.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

Trumaine Johnson won’t be leaving Southern California.

 

The Rams placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the veteran cornerback ahead of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, the team announced.

 

It’s the second year running that Johnson has been tagged, leaving the defender to play out the 2017 campaign for a cool $16.8 million — making him the highest-paid cornerback league-wide.

 

Johnson also becomes the first defensive back to be tagged in back-to-back seasons since Charles Woodson in 2004 and 2005, per NFL Research.

 

It’s not a surprising move by the Rams, but general manager Les Snead was noncommittal when asked about tagging Johnson in January, calling it a “big decision” toward building a defense for new coordinator Wade Phillips.

 

“Wade, like a lot of (defensive coordinators), likes good players on the outside,” Snead told The Los Angeles Times. “Trumaine fits that category … Trumaine is a larger guy with good ball skills and all things like that.”

 

Johnson struggled at times last season, allowing an 83.7 passer rating in coverage, which ranked 61st in the NFL. His interceptions dropped from seven in 2015 to just one last season, while Johnson allowed eight touchdowns, tied for eighth most in the league.

 

Still, the arrival of Phillips made this something of a no-brainer for the Rams. The longtime defensive aide historically gets the best out of his cornerbacks and likely made it clear to the front office that losing Johnson would have been an ugly beginning for the new coaching staff.

 

With 27 starts over the past two seasons, Johnson — a third-round pick in the 2012 draft — is a mostly reliable cover man who the Rams couldn’t afford to let walk out the door. Now that won’t be a problem.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

It was thought that S ERIC BERRY’s big new deal would clear the way for a tag on DT DONTARI POE – but that is not the case.  Adam Teicher at ESPN.com:

 

With their franchise-player tag available after they signed safety Eric Berry to a long-term contract, the Chiefs declined to use it on nose tackle Dontari Poe by Wednesday afternoon’s deadline.

 

“Eric Berry got a pretty substantial amount,” coach Andy Reid said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “I’m not sure what’s left in the purse.

 

“But we love the kid and we’d love to have him back for sure.”

 

The Chiefs would have had to offer Poe a one-year contract worth $13,387,000 if they had franchised him. They could re-sign Poe before or after the March 9 start of free agency but that seems unlikely.

 

Poe, 26, joined the Chiefs as their first-round draft pick in 2012. He was not as productive last season as he had been earlier in his career, when he was a consistent force against the run and strong as an inside pass rusher. Poe was selected to play in the Pro Bowl after the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

 

Poe was a workhorse for the Chiefs. He missed only two games in his career because of injury. He also played a lot of snaps for a defensive lineman but the Chiefs usually found him too valuable in both running and passing situations to provide him much relief.

 

Poe is remarkably athletic for a 346-pound player. The Chiefs put his athleticism to use occasionally in goal-line situations. He twice scored on running plays in his career and threw a touchdown pass in a win last season against the Denver Broncos.

 

The Chiefs have named a franchise player in four of the last five years: wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in 2012, offensive tackle Branden Albert in 2013, linebacker Justin Houston in 2015 and Berry last year.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Chris Burke of SI.com on Sashi Brown of the Browns on the quarterback position:

 

Cleveland’s Sashi Brown sounded Wednesday like a GM determined to upgrade at the quarterback position this off-season. Whether that means using the No. 1 or 12 or 33 pick on a prospect, swinging a trade or even dipping into free agency, Brown is not entirely sure. At least, not yet.

 

“I don’t think we look at it as we need to take a quarterback,” Brown said at the NFL scouting combine. “That said, that’s a position of emphasis for us. … Anytime you don’t have your starting quarterback, there should always be an emphasis on [the position].”

 

Brown would not entirely rule out the possibility of the Browns heading into 2017 featuring a trio of Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan at QB—“that could be the reality that we’re faced with, so it’s something you have to prepare for,” he said.

 

But he added that none of those current options on the roster provides a clear answer at the game’s most important position.

 

“Those are three guys on our roster and we’ll continue to develop and work with them,” Brown said. “Doesn’t mean that’s necessarily our aiming point. We want one of those guys to develop and establish themselves as a good, quality long-term starter for us that can win a lot of games, but each of them has a ways to go to establish themselves.”

 

Barring a trade between now and April 27, Cleveland stands to have first crack at a potential franchise QB via the draft. The consensus for now, though, is that Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett will land in that No. 1 spot. Brown did say, without revealing any further specifics, that the Browns had an early order of preference in mind for the draft’s top quarterbacks.

 

“I wouldn’t [say] at this point and this goes for … I know there will be questions about Garrett and [Jonathan] Allen and all the guys at the top of the draft,” Brown said. “I just think it would be inappropriate for me and not wise to comment on how we feel about any individual player.”

 

In his brief time in charge of Cleveland’s roster, Brown has shown no qualms about pulling the trigger on a trade. He was active at last year’s draft, then shipped off a pick to New England for linebacker Jamie Collins during the 2016 season.

 

Not surprisingly, then, Brown left the door ajar ever so slightly that the No. 1 pick could be up for discussion.

 

“We’re going to—I think, responsibly—listen to any opportunities that are out there,” he said. “I think we have to do that, [but] that’s not a design of ours. We have to see what might come and what player might be available there as we get through this process.”

 

A likelier result could be Cleveland swinging that 12 or 33 pick elsewhere for a veteran QB like, say, Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots may be ready to throw some cold water on that—a report early Wednesday indicated that New England would hang onto its valuable backup.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Jason Wolf of The Tennessean on whether or not the Titans could move down from pick number five.

 

A year ago, at his introductory press conference, Jon Robinson wasted little time in hanging a “for sale” sign on the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

 

On Wednesday, the Titans’ general manager did the same with pick No. 5.

 

“It’s got to be a two-way street. We’ve got to have somebody that wants to move up to that spot,” Robinson said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But like I said last year, we’re open for business and willing to have discussions. We’re just again trying to put ourselves in position to improve the football team.”

 

The Titans own eight picks in the NFL draft, scheduled for April 27-29 in Philadelphia — the fifth and 18th overall selections in the first round, two picks in the third, and one each in the fourth through seventh rounds. They do not have a pick in the second round after it was dealt to the Browns in a flurry of trades last offseason. But based on the GM’s track record, the Titans could end up with one.

 

Robinson pulled off five trades in reshaping the Titans last offseason, setting the stage for the team to improve from a 3-13 record in 2015 to 9-7. The six-win improvement tied for the largest single-season jump in franchise history.

 

Robinson’s deal to ship the No. 1 overall pick to the Rams for a “king’s ransom” proved among the most impactful, and led to the extra picks in the first and third rounds this year (the fifth and 100th overall).

 

 “I’d love to have about 20 picks” this year, Robinson said. “But it may be hard to get that. I think we’ll just take every scenario like we did last year, and you really evaluate the player that’s available to you there when you’re on the clock.

 

“Obviously, if you’ve kind of made a deal before you’re on the clock, you move on that. If you think you can get the player a couple picks later — there’s a lot of draft strategy that goes into the draft and positioning yourself to get the player that can have a meaningful impact to the football team, and knowing your competition around the pick that you’re at, either above you or behind you, in trying to get yourself in position to improve the team.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

DT KYLE WILLIAMS will not be a cap casualty.  Jay Skurski in the Buffalo News:

 

In a news conference short on news, Sean McDermott did make one significant announcement Wednesday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine.

 

The Buffalo Bills’ new coach confirmed that veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams will return to the team in 2017.

 

“Kyle Williams, man, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kyle,” McDermott said in his first press conference since being hired Jan. 13. “Again, what he’s done for the Bills’ organization, one of our leaders, and I can announce at this time, that Kyle is coming back, and we look forward to working with Kyle.”

 

Williams, 33, started 15 games for the Bills in 2016, finishing with 64 tackles and five sacks. He has a salary-cap charge of $8.3 million for 2017, leading to some speculation that he could be a cap casualty, particularly if the Bills decided to rebuild their roster. McDermott, however, put an end to that speculation Wednesday.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

With a Super Bowl ring on order, DE CHRIS LONG says he is one and done in New England.  Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:

 

Defensive end Chris Long announced he won’t be returning to the Patriots after his first season with the team in 2016.

 

Long signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract last year and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent March 9. He’ll turn 32 this month.

 

Long appears to be leaving on strong terms with the organization and referred to Bill Belichick as “the GOAT” in his statement on social media. He later tweeted that his playoff snaps mostly occurred on third down, and he was used as an interior rusher. He appears to prefer to play for a team that wishes to use him on the edge.

 

“Thank you, Pats Nation,” Long wrote in a statement. “As a player you’ve given so much support, I owe you an explanation as to why I’ll be moving on in (free agency), even if it isn’t a big deal.

 

“This year and this opportunity gave me a ton. I made lifelong friends in a great locker room and became a champion. I’m so thankful that Coach B (the GOAT) took a chance on me and allowed me the opportunity to play a small part in this wonderful year.

 

“This has zero to do with money, etc. It’s the right move in my heart because I want to get back to being the player I was before. I’m thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I’m itching to do what I do best. It was important to say thank you personally. You may not remember me much, but I’ll always remember y’all.”

 

Long had four sacks in 16 games and played in the playoffs for the first time in his nine-year career. He led the Patriots with 29 quarterback disruptions (four sacks, eight QB hits, 17 pressures) in the regular season, and he made two standout plays during his tenure, forcing a fumble to secure a Week 12 victory against the Jets and drawing a holding penalty that ultimately forced the Falcons to punt from the Patriots’ side of the field in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI.

 

On the other hand, there is a report from Adam Schefter that the Patriots do not want to deal JIMMY GARAPPOLO – although that’s what you might expect someone to say to try to drive the price up.

 

@AdamSchefter

In a move that will have a ripple effect on all QB-needy teams, Patriots are not expected to trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo, per league sources.

 

This is something that Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com isn’t buying:

 

Do you believe the talk that the New England Patriots will not trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — no matter what?

 

It’s about as believable as a sleeveless hoodie becoming a fashion trend.

 

There have been many reports by several high-profile media members who keep insisting that the Patriots will not trade Garoppolo, even if they get blown away by an offer.

 

I don’t believe it.

 

Can I say it again: I don’t believe it.

 

This, to me, smells of a calculated play by Patriots coach and general manager Bill Belichick. He is trying to drive up the price for Garoppolo. What would be the point to keeping him?

 

There is none.

 

Tom Brady has continually said he will play for four more years, and who’s to say he can’t? He turns 40 this year, but he was sensational rallying the Patriots from 25 points down to claim a Super Bowl victory over the Falcons last month. Did he look old?

 

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So why keep Garoppolo around? Some will say it’s insurance for next season. Let me tell you something: If Brady were to go down for any length of time, the Patriots are done.

 

Garoppolo looked good in his two starts last season, but being the guy for 12-14 games is an entirely different animal. And we know he wouldn’t come close to being in the Brady-sphere for a long time — if ever.

 

So let’s just say the Patriots don’t trade him. Then they have him for one year as a backup — hopefully one who never plays — and then they do what? Tag him in 2018? That would be a $50 million commitment to two quarterbacks, one a backup? Yeah, sure, that’s happening. If the Patriots didn’t tag Garoppolo, they lose him and hope to just get a compensatory pick, probably a third-rounder.

 

So maybe they tag him and trade him? There goes their leverage. All the teams would know they couldn’t keep Garoppolo at a gigantic cap number with Brady scheduled to have a cap number of $22 million in 2018. And if Garoppolo doesn’t play a game in 2018, isn’t it out of sight, out of mind?

 

Right now, the Patriots have all the bargaining power. That’s why I think they are leaking to media members and Belichick friends that Garoppolo isn’t going anywhere. That can only drive up the price, right?

 

I like Garoppolo. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I would offer the 12th pick in the first round of this April’s draft and something else to get him. But to think this kid is going to sit for four years, and then take over in New England when Brady does hang it up is sheer stupidity.

 

The Patriots know this. The rest of league knows this.

 

That’s why I don’t believe it. What would be the point to hold onto him?

 

Again, give me a good reason.

 

This is The Hoodie being The Hoodie, trying to get another one over on the rest of the league. He’s playing a game of poker. Problem is, nobody believes his bluff.

 

I certainly don’t. It’s Belichick playing an angle, and we know he’s done that a bunch of different ways in the past. He is smart, calculating and cunning. This is another example of that.

 

This is a way to try to get more than a first-round pick for Garoppolo. Maybe if Belichick makes it seem like he will keep Garoppolo, somebody will floor him with an unreal offer.

 

There are a lot of personnel men in the league who think Belichick loves to play the draft process more than he does coaching now. That’s what this seems like. He will get picks, then use them to probably get even more, and continue to build his roster around Brady, who is still playing at a high level. He is playing with a commodity, using it to his advantage.

 

This is a man who discards loyal Patriots players when he wants, how he wants. He has dumped stars in the their prime with an eye on the future. That’s the roster game he supposedly loves so much now. This is his time. This is just another move in arsenal.

 

Keep Garoppolo? I just don’t see it — or, better yet, the reason for it.

 

It’s just Bill being Bill.

 

Ben Volin in the Boston Globe also snickers at Schefter’s report:

 

If Bill Belichick’s goal is to convince the rest of the world that Jimmy Garoppolo is not on the trading block this offseason, he’s not doing a very good job of it.

 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the latest to report that the Patriots will be keeping Garoppolo for 2017, writing Wednesday on Twitter that “Patriots are not expected to trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo, per league sources.”

 

That report left a little wiggle room — “not expected to” — but Schefter doubled down on his report later in the day while speaking on WEEI radio.

 

“I’m just telling you that Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be on the Patriots in 2017,” he said. “No matter who calls, no matter what anybody offers, he’s going to be on the roster this summer.”

 

Schefter is the most respected reporter in the NFL, and his words carry significant weight. Even still, it was hard finding an executive, scout, or media member at the combine who believed that the Patriots absolutely wouldn’t trade Garoppolo should a team blow them away with an offer.

 

 “Every player has a price,” said one general manager.

 

Was Wednesday’s report a sign that the Patriots are committing to Garoppolo as their backup in 2017, and possibly as their starting quarterback of the future? Or was this simply an unspoken message to teams believed to be interested in Garoppolo — the Browns, Bears, and 49ers — that their trade offers are underwhelming?

 

It’s still early in the offseason, and deadlines often spur action. So the real trade talks might not heat up until the trade market opens March 9 or, at the latest, right before the draft on April 25. Heck, the Patriots could go all the way through training camp and wait for a team to get desperate, as the Vikings did last August.

 

It’s impossible to know what to believe, because the NFL Combine is one giant game of liar’s poker.

 

Teams lie to each other about which players they’re interested in. Teams lie to agents about whether their players are in their plans for the future. Agents lie to teams about how many teams are interested in their clients. And draft prospects lie to teams about their off-field habits and their commitment to football.

 

The reason to trade Garoppolo this offseason is obvious: He is entering the final year of his contract, Tom Brady is playing among the best football of his career at age 39 and wants to play several more seasons, and Garoppolo potentially could fetch multiple high draft picks to help restock the New England roster for a few years.

 

But it’s certainly understandable if the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo for 2017. He’s under contract for $820,077 in salary and a $1.108 million salary cap, and backup quarterback is one of the most important positions in today’s NFL (just ask the Oakland Raiders).

 

Garoppolo proved in his short stint last season that he’s more than capable of playing quarterback in the NFL, and he just might be the Patriots’ QB of the future.

 

“I thought Jimmy was really special,” said Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator when Garoppolo threw three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes against them last September. “He was really poised and confident. I was shocked how good he was against us.”

 

“I was very impressed with his poise,” added Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, whose team lost to Garoppolo, 23-21, in Week 1.

 

Of course, if Belichick really wanted to set the record straight, he could do so easily in Indianapolis. He could schedule a press conference — the Patriots, Saints, and Redskins are the only teams not to have a coach or GM speak to the media here this week — look right into the cameras and tell the world, “Jimmy Garoppolo is not going anywhere.”

 

Instead, we get only back-channel reports from ESPN and NFL Network about how Garoppolo isn’t going anywhere, which only creates the impression that the Patriots are trying to drive up the ante.

 

If the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, well, no team knows more about him than they do. But pretty soon, every day that Garoppolo remains with the Patriots will only create controversy about the Patriots’ future at quarterback.

 

It’s all well and good to say that the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, but it’s easier said than done. They can keep him for 2017 on his current deal no problem, but then what happens in 2018 and beyond? Garoppolo, like any competitor, wants to get paid, and he doesn’t want to keep sitting on the bench.

 

Keeping Garoppolo past 2017 means investing $20-plus million into him, the amount of the franchise tag. And it means you’re either paying your backup $20 million — a horrible use of resources, particularly for the cap-savvy Patriots — or, more startlingly, that you’re getting rid of Brady in 2018.

 

That can’t be the scenario that any Patriots fan is rooting for after the incredible season Brady just put together. But if the Patriots don’t trade Garoppolo this offseason, they’re inviting a world of controversy about their quarterback situation.

 

Let’s not forget Belichick’s comments about Garoppolo from November.

 

“Jimmy can go out there and run everything that Tom can run,” he said. “When we put Jimmy in there, it’s really seamless. Unless you were actually looking at the position, if you just could block out that position and say which guy was in there at quarterback, I don’t know if you would know a lot of times.”

 

That quote sounds like Belichick has identified his next franchise quarterback. Or, it sounds like he’s trying to drive up the price on Garoppolo.

 

It’s impossible to know. Belichick might be holding a straight flush, or he might be bluffing.

 

No matter how many reports emerge in the next days and weeks about Garoppolo staying with the Patriots, it will be tough to take them at face value until we actually see Garoppolo standing on the Patriots sideline in Week 1.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TOP FREE AGENTS

Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com lists the top free agents set to hit the market after the passing of the franchise tag date (with commentary on some of them, you can see his discussion of all 50 here);

 

For the moment, though, this is the list of the best players slated to come available when free agency opens:

 

[Editor’s note: This list will was updated on March 1, 2017, to remove players that were either re-signed or franchise tagged. To see a full list of every NFL free agent, be sure to visit PFF’s 2017 Free Agency Tracker]

 

1. Calais Campbell, DI, Arizona Cardinals

The only thing keeping Campbell from being higher on this list is age, as he will enter the 2017 season north of 30 years old for the second time in his career. Campbell, though, is coming off the best season of his NFL tenure, recording 56 total QB pressures and 34 defensive stops in 2016. He maintained his strong run defense and improved as a pass-rusher. The way Arizona has deployed him, Campbell can play in any scheme, and has effectively lined up at 3-technique (the traditional pass-rushing alignment of a four-man D-line defensive tackle) more often than any other spot for the Cardinals, despite their base defensive front.

 

2. Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals

The offensive lineman group in free agency is headed by Kevin Zeitler and T.J. Lang, who are both Pro-Bowl quality guards on the right side of 30. Zeitler is the more balanced of the two in terms of run blocking and pass protection, and is also two years younger, so he narrowly edges Lang as the best available lineman, but depending on the system you run, a team might easily view Lang as a better fit.

 

3. T.J. Lang, G, Green Bay Packers

Lang is two years older than Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, but like seemingly all Green Bay offensive linemen, he is one of the best players in the league at pass blocking. This past season, Lang didn’t allow a single sack or hit on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and surrendered just 10 QB hurries all season, despite Rodgers recording the second-highest average time to throw in the league. If you are a team in need of guard help, and the passing game is the foundation of your offense, Lang would be your ideal target.

 

4. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

Dont’a Hightower is an impact player, but has a very specific skill-set that the Patriots have been able to utilize extremely well. He has good grades in every area of the game PFF measures in three straight seasons, and has been used heavily by the Patriots as a pass-rusher on the blitz—typically up the middle to augment their relatively average pass rush up front. Over the past three seasons, Hightower has recorded 18 total sacks and has averaged 32 total QB pressures per season, as well as being a solid run defender. The less space he has to play in, the better, but Hightower can be an impact linebacker for most teams.

 

5. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills

Gilmore is arguably the only available cornerback that a team could expect to thrive as a No. 1 corner, but his 2016 season calls into question how confident anybody can be in handing him that role, given how poor his play was at times. For the season, Gilmore notched five picks, but that masks much of the poor play, and the 15.6 yards per reception he was beaten for represents a career high. Any team handing him a big-money deal will want to be confident that 2016 was more anomaly than baseline.

 

6. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

Alshon Jeffery is another player with the potential to be elite at his position, but between average play in 2016 and a series of injuries that have affected his availability over multiple years, his value and desirability to teams has taken a hit over recent seasons. Jeffery played in 12 games this past season, catching 56.5 percent of the passes thrown his way and dropping a career-high five balls.

 

7. A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans

A.J. Bouye was one of the breakout players of the 2016 season, likely earning himself a lot of money. The risk is that anybody handing him that contract is working from just one season of tape, but it was one consistent season—the expected regression never really came—and it does feature 17 games, thanks to Houston’s playoff campaign. Over the year, Bouye allowed just 50.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught for a passer rating of 58.5 from opposing QBs.

 

8. Nick Perry, EDGE, Green Bay Packers

Nick Perry is another former first-round edge defender that took some time to get going in the NFL, but has started to look worth the draft status lately. Perry posted career-highs in snaps, sacks, total QB pressures, defensive stops and more or less every other statistical category you choose to mention for the Packers this season. He is a player that might be better suited playing consistently with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end. Either way, Perry has the position flexibility to make him an option to any scheme in the league.

 

9. Andrew Whitworth, T, Cincinnati Bengals

The only thing keeping Whitworth this low on the list is his age (35). Despite those advanced years, he remains one of the league’s best offensive tackles, surrendering 14 total QB pressures over the 2016 season. The Bengals have likely learned over the season that they can’t allow him to hit free agency, but if he does, he will have no shortage of suitors. As long as you accept that you’re not in it for the long haul given his age, Whitworth is one of the best potential short-term upgrades slated to hit the market.

 

10. Duron Harmon, S, New England Patriots

The Patriots have never given Duron Harmon more than 700 total snaps over a season, including the postseason. He has been effectively a nickel safety for the team, but has earned solid or good coverage grades in every season of his career, and is a player that has proven ability to play deep off the line of scrimmage and still influence play. Teams have no shortage of strong safety options, but a legitimate talent at free safety is a rare prize, and that could see Harmon’s value boosted significantly in a seller’s market.

 

11. Brandon Williams, DI, Baltimore Ravens

 

12. Tony Jefferson, S, Arizona Cardinals

 

13. Terrelle Pryor, WR, Cleveland Browns

 

14. Larry Warford, G, Detroit Lions

 

15. Chris Baker, DI, Washington Redskins

 

16. Ronald Leary, G, Dallas Cowboys

 

17. Dontari Poe, DI, Kansas City Chiefs

Dontari Poe has rare ability for a nose tackle, and can do things at 346 pounds that players 20 pounds lighter can’t from a movement standpoint. His 2013 season represents his potential. That year, he was an excellent run defender and brought enough as a pass-rusher in collapsing the pocket up the middle; what’s more, did it while playing a crazy 1,063 snaps for a nose tackle. The issue is, though, that Poe hasn’t hit those heights since. He is just 27 years old, however, and teams will want to chase the potential he has at least proven capable of in the past.

 

18. Logan Ryan, CB, New England Patriots

 

19. Jabaal Sheard, EDGE, New England Patriots

 

20. Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots

We saw early in the season the kind of potential that Martellus Bennett has when he was ably filling in for Rob Gronkowski, and he deserves significant credit for gutting it out over the season and playing through injuries for the Patriots. That said, it did clearly affect his play. Bennett is one of the league’s most talented TEs, capable of excellent work as a receiver and blocker, but has rarely put it all together for extended stretches of play, and will be 30 by the time the new season rolls around.

 

21. DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins

DeSean Jackson is still one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats, capable of making a big play at any time. In 2016, only T.Y. Hilton had more receptions on deep passes (20+ air yards) than Jackson’s 16, and he scored three times, netting 579 yards (the most in the league) on deep targets alone. He has never been the most complete receiver in the game, but deep threats are a valuable part of NFL offenses, and Jackson is still among the best available.

 

22. Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys

 

23. Prince Amukamara, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

24. Pierre Garçon, WR, Washington Redskins

 

25. Kenny Britt, WR, Los Angeles Rams

 

26. Barry Church, S, Dallas Cowboys

 

27. J.C. Tretter, C, Green Bay Packers

 

28. Ricky Wagner, T, Baltimore Ravens

 

29. John Cyprien, S, Jacksonville Jaguars

John Cyprien earned the highest PFF run-defense grade we have ever given a safety, ending the 2016 season with a mark of 98.8 as he found his home closer to the line of scrimmage within the Jacksonville defensive scheme. His coverage was still far from ideal, but his run defense was legitimately impactful, and only Giants S Landon Collins had more defensive stops at the position. Cyprien’s issue is that he has just one season of improved play, and there are many other capable safeties available to fill the role.

 

30. John Simon, EDGE, Houston Texans

 

31. D.J. Swearinger, S, Arizona Cardinals

 

32. Bradley McDougald, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

33. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

 

34. DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Denver Broncos

 

35. Charles Johnson, EDGE, Carolina Panthers

 

36. Johnathan Hankins, DI, New York Giants

 

37. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

 

38. Stefan Wisniewski, C/G, Philadelphia Eagles

 

39. Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Minnesota Vikings

Cornerbacks that are termed “sub-package only” were once one of the last things a team needed to get in place, but in today’s NFL, those players are playing two-thirds of their team’s defensive snaps, so they need to be capable. Captain Munnerlyn has been solid at worst for some time, and far better than that at points over the past few seasons. His play tailed off over the 2016 season, but there is certainly something to work with.

 

40. Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Glennon has been average over his 1,256 career snaps, but it’s how that average play has been accomplished that makes him at least intriguing to a QB-starved league. Glennon has tended to be either very good, or very bad in any given game, and then swung back in the other direction. Much of that is directly down to how much pressure he was under in the game, but he has at least shown enough good in his young career to tempt some teams desperately in search of an answer at the position.

 

41. LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots

LeGarrette Blount was the hammer of the Patriots’ offense this past season. When they needed to pound the football and run with power, they handed him the ball, and it worked. He finished 2016 with a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns and the second-most carries, with 299. Blount is somewhat one-dimensional, but he is a good power back.

 

42. Terence Newman, CB, Minnesota Vikings

 

43. Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans

 

44. Chris Long, EDGE, New England Patriots

Chris Long became a situational pass-rusher for the Patriots this past season, and though he didn’t have the best season of his career, he showed he could still make crucial big plays, including in the Super Bowl on his limited snaps.

 

45. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

 

46. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets

The Jets cut Nick Mangold loose after an injury-plagued season, and it’s clear that he is no longer the force he once was. Mangold at his best was the top center in the game, but even at his current level, he remains an adequate starter, and hasn’t surrendered a sack in his last 33 games.

 

47. Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders

Latavius Murray is a solid running back option, but likely sees his market depressed with a draft class stacked full of backfield talent just around the corner. Last season, he averaged 2.6 yards per carry after contact behind one of the league’s better run-blocking offensive lines, but had only 207 carries. In the three games in which he carried the ball 20-plus times, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

 

48. Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins

After a down 2015 campaign (61.5 overall grade), Stills bounced back in the 2016 season (74.5 overall grade), averaging 17.3 yards per reception and hauling in nine touchdowns (tied for sixth-most in the league among WRs). He has elite speed and has shown that, when utilized correctly, he can be a dangerous weapon.

 

49. Sam Shields, CB, Green Bay Packers

 

50. John Sullivan, C, Washington Redskins

 

The following players were on the original top 50 list, but have since been removed due to being placed under the franchise tag or signing a long-term contract.

 

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Was No. 1 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

Was No. 2 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Kawann Short, DI, Carolina Panthers

Was No. 3 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Melvin Ingram, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers

Was No. 4 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals

Was No. 6 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Jason Pierre-Paul, EDGE, New York Giants

Was No. 7 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

Was No. 8 overall, signed to six-year deal.

 

Trumaine Johnson, CB, Los Angeles Rams

Was No. 24 overall, placed under franchise tag.

 

Mario Addison, EDGE, Carolina Panthers

Was No. 39 overall, signed to three-year deal.

 

James Harrison, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers

Was No. 40 overall, signed to two-year deal.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Greg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star sends a message to any GM thinking of making his team better by drafting Oklahoma RB JOE MIXON – we, the media, will crucify you.

 

Let’s get right to it: The Indianapolis Colts do have a need at running back and they will have the chance, several chances in fact, to draft Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon in April.

 

They can’t do it. Here, I’m speaking to new Colts general manager Chris Ballard:

 

You can’t do it.

 

Will he? We’ll know by April 29, the third and final day of the 2017 NFL draft.

 

What we know right now is that Ballard, a first-time GM hired in January, comes from an organization that took chances. To be clear, the Kansas City Chiefs were rewarded for it. With Ballard serving alongside GM John Dorsey, the Chiefs devoted three of their most recent 18 draft picks to known character risks. Two of them, cornerback Marcus Peters and kick returner Tyreek Hill, just made first team All-Pro.

 

That’s two more All-Pro picks than the 2016 Colts, whose lack of talent led to the dismissal of GM Ryan Grigson and the arrival of Ballard. The Chiefs won 12 games and the AFC West last season. What they did? It worked.

 

Peters, the best cornerback in the 2015 draft, slipped to Kansas City at 18th overall in Round 1 because he was a hothead at Washington, getting himself kicked off the team after a sideline outburst. Having one or more tantrums, even one directed at his own coaching staff, is a red flag but hardly a disqualifier for future NFL employment.

 

What Tyreek Hill did?

 

That’s a disqualifier for future NFL employment. Well, it should have been. Get a load of this guy: He was charged with felony domestic violence and pleaded guilty at Oklahoma State to choking his pregnant girlfriend. He also punched her in the stomach. She was pregnant. When Hill and his world-class speed tumbled to the fifth round in 2016, the Chiefs took him.

 

Look, Ballard didn’t make that pick. And maybe he wouldn’t have, had he been running the Chiefs’ draft in 2016. If Tyreek Hill’s success in the NFL — if his employment in the NFL — rubs you the wrong way, good. But let’s not blame Ballard for that.

 

If the Colts pick Joe Mixon?

 

Let’s blame Ballard for that.

 

What I’m doing here, it might not be necessary. Oh, the Colts need a running back. They do. Frank Gore is coming off a 1,025-yard season, but he turns 34 in May and the Colts don’t have his replacement on the roster.

 

But it’s a leap — an impossible one, I’m hoping — to say the Colts will solve one running back problem by drafting Mixon and creating another one. Ballard strikes me as a classy man, a guy we’re going to really like here, someone whose GM work remains to be seen but whom we can trust to do right by the community.

 

Ballard met the media Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, and I asked him about that balance between a surplus of talent and a deficit of character.

 

“We’re going to go A-to-Z to see what the problems are and see if it’s something we want to manage,” he said. “That’s an organizational decision, from Mr. (Jim) Irsay, from the rest of our ownership down to our marketing; how’s it going to impact our fans? You have to weigh all of that before you make a decision on a high-risk character guy.”

 

Good answer, right? Refreshing too. The Colts’ new GM just said he would take into account the optics of adding a guy with a character issue — how does it look? — before doing it.

 

Here’s how it would look for the Colts (or anyone) to draft Joe Mixon:

 

Disgusting.

 

In July 2014 before his freshman season at Oklahoma, Mixon got into an argument with a woman. The argument escalated from verbal to physical, with the woman striking Mixon on his neck.

 

Mixon punched her, breaking four bones in her face.

 

Despite the incident being caught on video, Mixon was allowed to enter a guilty plea, known as an Alford plea, in which he is allowed to still maintain his innocence.

 

Last year the NFL decided it would not invite to the combine draft prospects with convictions involving guns, sexual assault or domestic violence. Because of his Alford plea, Mixon was eligible to be invited. Because the NFL has learned from the Ray Rice incident, Mixon — a possible first-round talent — wasn’t.

 

But this is the NFL. Someone will draft him and hide behind talk of second chances, he’s learned his lesson, never again, vomit.

 

The Colts have not been angels when it comes to drafting known character risks, but that’s not the bar here. Since 2013 the Colts have drafted four known risks — defensive lineman Montori Hughes (fifth round) in 2013, linebackers Jonathan Newsome (fifth) and Andrew Jackson (sixth) in 2014, and linebacker Antonio Morrison (fourth) in 2016.

 

And let me be clear: Not one of those picks was all that objectionable. Risky? Yes. Jackson (arrested twice on DUI charges) and Newsome (arrested on a charge of marijuana possession) were released after finding trouble again. Knuckleheads are gonna knucklehead, but the NFL is a business, not a civic club. The Colts rolled the dice under Grigson, they probably will roll the dice under Ballard, and up to a point it’s all good. There’s a difference between a red flag that could shrink your NFL opportunity — and a red flag that should end it.

 

Here’s what else Chris Ballard said Wednesday about character risks, this in response to a question that wondered how the success of Peters and Hill in Kansas City would inform his draft strategy here:

 

“Kids make mistakes,” he said. “These are young kids still growing up and they make mistakes, and we have to figure out — that’s our job, and our organization’s job — to figure out the guys that we’re willing to take a chance on.”

 

That’s how his response ended. This is how it began:

 

“Look,” he said, “I tell our scouts this: Ignore the noise. Ignore the noise. Let’s make our own opinion of people.”

 

Some noise cannot be ignored.

 

Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com on one GM who seems interested in Mixon:

 

Lions General Manager Bob Quinn has become the most outspoken opponent yet against the NFL’s new rule barring players convicted of certain crimes from the Scouting Combine.

 

Quinn was asked today by Justin Rogers of the Detroit News about the situation involving Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, and Quinn said he disagrees with the NFL’s stance.

 

“It’s really disappointing that he’s not here,” Quinn said. “Personally I don’t think that’s real fair.”

 

Mixon is one of the best running backs in this year’s draft class, but he’s not at the Combine because he punched a woman at a restaurant during his first year of college.

 

Quinn, who has backed off his previous zero tolerance policy toward players with a history of domestic violence, confirmed that Mixon is still on the Lions’ draft board.

 

So Quinn will consider drafting Mixon, and he wants to gather all the information on Mixon he can. At the Combine this week, Quinn can’t gather any information about Mixon.