The finish line is in sight. In under 100 hours, the Cardinals will take Kyler Murray with the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Or they won’t. And that’s sort of the story for each of the four quarterbacks atop this year’s class—there’s a wide range of outcomes that seem possible for each of them three days from now.
The rest of the 2019 class? Many of them are in a similar situation.
After seven months of working the phones, learning about this particular crop of prospects and trying to put the pieces together, my feeling is that there are four or five players that stand out above the crowd. I expect all five (one’s a wild card) to go within the top 10 picks, and I can separate them into tiers.
TIER 1: Ohio State DE Nick Bosa and Alabama DT Quinnen Williams
TIER 2: Kentucky LB Josh Allen and LSU LB Devin White
TIER 2 WILD CARD: Houston DT Ed Oliver
I call Oliver a wild card, because he’s not for everyone. White could be considered one too, because of the diminished value of off-ball linebackers. But I think if you got a look at most teams’ boards, you’d consistently see these five names near the top.
After that, it’s absolutely anyone’s guess who goes where.
“The meat of this draft is Day 2 and Day 3,” one AFC exec said on Sunday night. “The second-to-fourth round is where it’s at. Once we get by that first level, with the elite guys, to me, it’s all the same.”
“After Bosa and Allen and Quinnen Williams,” one AFC GM said, “it’s a legit crapshoot.”
So here’s what that means: Most teams I’ve talked to over the last two weeks expect that in the 12-16 range, they’ll be looking at guys with second-round grades. There are that few real blue-chip players in the class. The flip side? Well, the flip side is that those second-round grades could stretch well into the third round, and the expectation is that there are going to finds well into Day 3.
That adds up to a lot of good, similarly graded players, and a very unpredictable first round. Maybe that sounds like a cop-out ahead of my mock draft. Maybe it is. But I can’t remember a draft quite like this, where there were questions on how players were going to come off the board at so many positions (corner, receiver, and every offensive line spot, to name a few) so close to draft day.
And, of course, that includes the most important position of all.
In this week’s MMQB, we’re heavy on draft info, but we’ll also…
• Give you one last look at how the Russell Wilson deal got done, and why it made sense for the Seahawks’ quarterback.
• Take another look at the process that the schedule-makers have gone through the last three months, with an explanation on how it all starts.
• Identify a potential landing spot for franchise-tagged Seahawk Frank Clark.
• Delve a little more into exactly what happened with the Raiders scouts over the last few weeks, and the potential challenge the team created for itself.
• Detail a few vets who could be on the move via trade during the draft (remember, the Super Bowl champs’ left tackle, Trent Brown, was traded last year on the Friday of the draft).
And as for draft info, we’re going to go a little deeper on Murray and Montez Sweat, and why a quarter of the first round picks could be offensive linemen. And I’ll project Thursday night’s opening round in my first mock in a couple months…
We’ve established that there are a lot of moving parts with this year’s class, and I’ll also mention this: None of these are my own evaluations of players. I’m not an evaluator, but I spend a lot of time talking to guys who are, and I view following college football as much a part of my job as a baseball writer would following the minor leagues.
So here’s a stab at what’ll go down on Thursday night, and I’ll probably take one more shot at it after another few dozen phone calls ahead of my Game Plan column, which will go up the morning of the draft. Here we go…
Needs: DT, OLB, OL
What I know: There’s been a lot of smoke over the last week about the Cardinals going away from Kyler Murray with the first pick. For right now, I still think they take him for two reasons. First, I do believe he’s new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s guy (and that’s not coming from Kingsbury, but people who know him). And second, I think if they weren’t going this way, the Josh Rosen situation would’ve been handled differently. It wouldn’t stun me if this pick was Quinnen Williams. But I know a bunch of NFL people who’d be floored by that.
With the first pick: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Needs: WR, S, DE
What I know: The Niners have done all the requisite work on Nick Bosa—taking him out in Columbus after his pro day, and bringing him to San Francisco for a ‘30’ visit. I also know that they have pretty extensive background on how he’ll fit coordinator Robert Salah’s defense. Remember, Nick’s older brother Joey plays for Salah’s old boss/mentor, Chargers DC Gus Bradley. The affection here for Bosa has been no secret, and he’d amp up an already formidable front.
With the second pick: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
NEW YORK JETS
Needs: DL, OL, WR
What I know: There’s been a drumbeat over the last week that the coaches here really like Oliver. Remember, DC Gregg Williams coached Aaron Donald with the Rams and surely he’d love a guy like Oliver. Enough to take him over Quinnen Williams? Maybe. For now…
With the third pick: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: Four years ago, I remember Scot McCloughan taking Brandon Scherff, a guard, with the fifth overall pick. That was his first pick with the Redskins. He wanted to make a statement in what he was looking for in players. And I could see Mike Mayock doing the same here, with LSU LB Devin White. The thing is, in this scenario, there’s a guy on the board who is just way too good a player to pass on.
With the fourth pick: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Needs: LB, RB, DT
What I know: This is a team that, despite its record, doesn’t feel like it’s a long way off. So drafting someone into a need spot who can play right away, and fit just what Todd Bowles wants on defense, would make a lot of sense. And word on the street is that Tampa loves White, who’d help replace the departed Kwon Alexander, and has the personality to evolve into the alpha on an NFL defense.
With the fifth pick: Devin White, LB, LSU
NEW YORK GIANTS
Needs: QB, DE, WR, RT
What I know: Logically, you’d say that if you like a quarterback enough to take him in the first round—essentially tying your job security to that player—then you shouldn’t get cute and wait until the second of your picks to take him. Enter the Giants, who own picks No. 6 and 17. But enough of those in the scouting community have reminded me how old-school Dave Gettleman is (best player available!) over the last week for the plunge to be taken (or not taken?) on this one. The best player, at this point, is clearly…
With the sixth pick: Josh Allen, DE/OLB, Kentucky
Needs: OT, TE, WR
What I know: This is where most teams expect the run on the three top tackles (Jonah Williams, Jawaan Taylor, Andre Dillard) to begin. And I’d heard it would be Taylor in this spot for forever—until the last few days. It’s been pointed out to me by a couple people how, after last year’s mess, Tom Coughlin plans to emphasize culture, and how Jonah Williams, even if he’s not a tackle, best works for that. Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson wouldn’t shock me here either. And early on, there was talk the Jags could be the surprise quarterback team. But I’ve heard a lot less of that lately.
With the seventh pick: Jonah Williams, OT/OG, Alabama
Needs: TE, LB, RB
What I know: The Lions would really, really like to trade down and accumulate picks, which makes them a lot like almost everyone else. If they don’t, an edge rusher (Rashan Gary?) could be in play, and there’s even been speculation in league circles that they could be the surprise quarterback team. But I’d guess right now that, rather than drafting one in the first round, they’ll find a weapon for the guy they already have by aiming right for the middle of the fairway.
With the eighth pick: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Needs: OT, CB, DT
What I know: Perception holds that this would be the floor for Oliver—and there’s a way where he could get here (the Giants, Jags and Lions like bigger defensive linemen). Assuming he doesn’t make it to this point, getting young Bills QB Josh Allen help is paramount. And while they’ve been linked to D.K. Metcalf, the overwhelming consensus is that this is way, way too high for him. So go with getting Allen a bodyguard, rather than a weapon. Jonah Williams played for OC Brian Daboll at Alabama. Unfortunately for the Bills, he’s already off the board as we have this laid out.
With the ninth pick: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
Needs: ILB, TE, C
What I know: Their connection to Drew Lock stretches all the way back to the Senior Bowl. And I’m going to say…they punt on the QBs this year. Michigan LB Devin Bush has gotten hot of late with coaches involved in the process. And word is that new Broncos coach Vic Fangio, fresh off coaching Chicago’s defense, may see a little Roquan Smith in Bush.
With the 10th pick: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
Needs: ILB, QB, OL
What I know: The Bengals have been connected to Bush for as long as the Broncos have, so I think there’s a possibility he’s the pick. But he’s not there in my mock. I was tempted to give Dwayne Haskins to the Giants at 6, but he’s now dropped out of the Top 10. With Andy Dalton going into a contract year, and the franchise resetting behind new coach Zac Taylor, other teams are connecting Cincinnati to Haskins. We will too.
With the 11th pick: Dwayne Haskins, QB Ohio State
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Needs: TE, WR, DT
What I know: The Packers have been looking to upgrade their line, and there’s been plenty of buzz connecting them to the two Iowa tight ends. I think this is the floor for Hockenson. Since he’s gone, and even though it might be a little tricky fitting this guy in with Jimmy Graham still there…
With the 12th pick: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
Needs: QB, DE, OT
What I know: The Dolphins are wide open here, and building with the long-term in mind. That said, an offensive or defensive lineman makes sense. And I’ve been told that finding a cultural fit will be a priority for new coach Brian Flores. Good thing there’s a guy who really fits that here. This is another trade down possibility, and maybe a spot where someone comes up for an offensive tackle, but we’ve got Miami making the pick…
With the 13th pick: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Needs: DE, OT, DT
What I know: Wilkins has been connected here for a while, and makes some sense if Grady Jarrett is out of Atlanta after 2019. But it makes more sense to me that the Falcons would look for Vic Beasley’s replacement here (in a Bruce Irvin clone). And that’s even with the temptation I think they’ll feel to take one of the offensive linemen on the board.
With the 14th pick: Brian Burns, DE, Florida State
Needs: QB, LB, WR
What I know: They’ve done all the work on all the quarterbacks, and the one I’ve heard them connected to most is gone now—that’s Haskins, who actually, believe it or not, went to high school with owner Dan Snyder’s son. I could see them moving for Haskins. I could also see them taking an edge rusher. Or doing this…
With the 15th pick: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
Needs: DE, S, OT
What I know: GM Marty Hurney has been all over the offensive linemen through this draft cycle, and word is they really like NC State’s Garrett Bradbury. But he’d be a funny fit after the signing of Matt Paradis. So they fill a need here, in catching a guy who’s fallen a little bit.
With the 16th pick: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
NEW YORK GIANTS
Needs: QB, DE, WR, RT
What I know: If they address quarterback at No. 6, keep an eye on Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence here. If not, Daniel Jones’s name has been linked to them throughout the process—a couple scouts have told me he is Eli Manning mechanically—and I know a lot of folks who believe it’s more than just dot-connecting. The Giants have been to North Carolina to see Jones, and brought him up for a visit. Too easy? Probably.
With the 17th pick: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
Needs: OT, OG, DT
What I know: I really think Mike Zimmer would love to see the Vikings tap into the defensive talent available in this draft here, and address the offensive line later. I just think, based on the way this seems to be going, they won’t be able to afford to wait to take one. And there’s one here who would work well for them.
With the 18th pick: Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College
Needs: OLB, DT, S
What I know: Based on the presence of coach Mike Vrabel at a lot of edge player workouts, and the team’s needs, there’s an assumption that this will be some sort of player for a defensive front that’s losing Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. So let’s go with that, and a guy who fits Vrabel (even if the Kevin Dodd pick of 2016 might give GM Jon Robinson a little pause on taking this guy)…
With the 19th pick: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Needs: CB, LB, TE
What I know: The chance of White or Bush falling here is slim, which puts the team’s long-time corner need back on the forefront. Among the top guys, there are some character concerns on LSU’s Greedy Williams and Georgia’s Deandre Baker, and some questions about the athleticism of Washington’s Byron Murphy and Vandy’s Joejuan Williams. Which leaves a very interesting corner prospect as the cleanest one, in a year in which the Steelers could use a safe play.
With the 20th pick: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
Needs: DE, DT, FS
What I know: The potential trade of Frank Clark would push a need to re-stock the defensive line, and there’s opportunity here for GM John Schneider to roll the dice on a couple guys who are seen as risky. He’s never been shy about doing that, so I’ll see him swinging for the fences on this one.
With the 21st pick: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
Needs: OLB, ILB, WR
What I know: There’s been some buzz on Metcalf here. And the Ravens have needs on defense. But more than anything, I’ve heard they’re going to continue to build up the run game around Lamar Jackson, even after spending on Mark Ingram. So I wouldn’t rule out Josh Jacobs here. Or a big, nasty offensive lineman.
With the 22nd pick: Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma
Needs: OT, TE, CB
What I know: They’ve done a ton of research on the offensive tackles, and I could see them trading up to get in position to take one of the top three guys, or trading down to position themselves for Alabama State’s Tytus Young or Ole Miss’s Greg Little. In this case, because we’re not projecting trades, I’ll have them going with a versatile piece for the line, with the hope they can shore up the tackle spot later. I am tempted to give them a corner here, but the pick is…
With the 23rd pick: Eric McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: Again, I think Mayock, just based on what I know about him, will go for a certain type of player. And I think there’s a running back out there who’s very much that type of player.
With the 24th pick: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
Needs: RB, LB, WR
What I know: Philly is in an awesome spot. The roster is in good shape, they don’t have to press needs, and they can take a risk on a falling player who’s outrageously athletic and a good schematic fit for their defense.
With the 25th pick: Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
Needs: WR, DE, LB
What I know: Chris Ballard is coming off a generational draft in 2018, and was able to effectively patch up the team’s biggest needs in free agency—adding Devin Funchess at receiver and Justin Houston as an edge rusher—which allows the team to go get a guy who would be, perhaps, right there with Bosa and Quinnen Williams on tape alone. But an ugly incident in high school and torn ACL are part of the file here, of course.
With the 26th pick: Jeffrey Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: You’ve already heard what I know about these guys. But at No. 27, finding a replacement for Jared Cook would be nice, and Noah Fant’s gone.
With the 27th pick: Irv Smith, TE, Alabama
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Needs: OT, CB, DT
What I know: The Chargers are in outstanding shape from a roster standpoint, which gives them a shot to shoot for, among other things, Russell Okung’s heir, or even Philip Rivers’s heir. (It wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the Josh Rosen market if Arizona takes Murray.) No matter what, they’ve got flexibility to go best player available here.
With the 28th pick: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Needs: C, OLB, CB
What I know: Oklahoma WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown would be great Tyreek Hill insurance, given his pending situation. And I’ve heard they’re going to take a corner for forever. But this lines up perfectly with a player who I could see going as high as the teens still being available for the Chiefs to replace Mitch Morse.
With the 29th pick: Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Needs: TE, WR, DT
What I know: Again, I think they’ll address the offensive line at some point. And this may well be that point. But I also know that Matt LaFleur’s offense needs a burner, like he had in Taylor Gabriel in Atlanta, and Sammy Watkins in L.A. And Hollywood is still on the board here.
With the 30th pick: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Needs: LB, OG, C
What I know: John Sullivan’s gone. So is Rodger Saffold. Which means if the right offensive lineman falls to the Rams, I think the guys there would be pretty happy. Thanks to the Packers taking Brown at No. 30, that happens here…
With the 31st pick: Elgton Jenkins, G/C, Mississippi State
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Needs: DE, TE, WR
What I know: Bill Belichick is always looking ahead, and he mentioned in his pre-draft press conference the need to match up with bigger receivers and athletic tight ends. The Patriots have had Patrick Chung in that role for a while. They could find another, bigger version of him. And I think that’s what they’ll see in this guy, rather than just lining up as a corner like most are doing.
With the 32nd pick: Joejuan Williams, DB, Vanderbilt
FINAL TAKEAWAYS ON THE NFL’S NEW HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER
In some ways, this year’s Russell Wilson negotiation mirrored what we saw between the quarterback and the Seahawks four years ago—a lot of talk about groundbreaking terms, ahead of a four-year extension with a pretty conventional structure. But in the wake of this more recent deal’s completion (which happened just after the midnight deadline on April 15/16), Wilson’s agent was quick to point out one key distinction.
And it’s an important one in framing how this went for Mark Rodgers, who’s made his name, and found his way to Wilson, working in baseball.
“Four years ago, I felt like I was in a baseball arbitration negotiation, where I had to compare my client’s statistics to those of a comparable player,” he said the other night. “This time, I felt like I was representing one of the elite players in the NFL, and no one was arguing that fact.”
So now that it’s over, we can comb through some of the details, and note what was important in pushing it over the goal line. As usual, some finer details tell the story of how the team and player reached a compromise. Earlier in the negotiation, Wilson’s side gave the Seahawks three proposals (at least one had money tied to percentages of the salary cap), and the final deal had elements of each in it.
Here are some elements that pushed team and player to that middle ground.
1) The cashflow. Wilson’s getting $70 million this year, $88 million between this year and next, and $107 million over the first three years of his deal. Seattle stuck to its policy of not funding guarantees in future seasons, but seasons two and three become guaranteed in March of those years. And the Seahawks would have to pay $70 million for one year and carry $52 million in dead money to cut him next March, and $44 million per year and carry $39 million in dead money to cut him the March after that. So he’s almost certainly getting through three years.
2) The combination of roster bonuses in 2022 and ’23, and the no-trade clause. Having the roster bonuses in March of those years, at $5 million, made it so, logically, Seattle would have to make an early decision if it planned to move on from Wilson at those junctures, and the no-trade clause limited the team’s options in that scenario. Essentially, it makes it highly likely that if Wilson isn’t going to collect his $24 million in 2022 or his $26 million in 2023, Seattle will have to send him to the market at 33 or 34 years old.
3) The price of tagging him in 2024. Wilson’s cap number for 2023 is $39 million. That means putting the franchise tag on him in ’24, if the rules stay the same, would be a minimum of 120% of that, or $46.8 million. Tagging him again in ’25 would cost $56.16 million. These tags always frame deals, and these numbers mean Wilson would be in line four a fourth contract four years from now, in his mid-30s, with well over $100 million its first two years.
4) One last sweetener. There are escalators in the deal (based on first-ballot Pro Bowl, Super Bowl MVP, and Offensive Player of the Year honors, plus touchdown passes, yards, and completion percentage) that can bring Wilson another $6 million. And if he hits those, it’d probably be good for everyone.
So the bad news for players here? Wilson’s contract didn’t break any Seahawks’ precedents or take aim at the folly of the NFL’s ridiculous funding rule (which forces teams to fund every fully-guaranteed dollar up-front with the league), which gives teams an excuse to give themselves trapdoors in contracts. That’s why Kirk Cousins’ contract was such a landmark one.
But Wilson wound up with $23.24 million more through three years than he’d have gotten playing out his current deal and on two franchise tags (like Cousins did), and he figures to get another bite of the financial apple. All of which certainly isn’t a loss for him.
WHEN DO THEY SCHEDULE THE SCHEDULE-MAKING?
If you want a full rundown on the schedule, and the impact that the movement of three star players (and the amazing rise of the Browns and the…Phillies?!?) had on the schedule, check out my Game Plan from Thursday. And if you want one leftover I found pretty interesting, well, I’ll give it to you now.
The first question I asked the schedule-makers when I got into the Val Pinchbeck room on Wednesday was simple: When does this actually start? The answer is the day after the previous season ends. And they then explained that teams don’t have to get their stadium blocks and other requests in until the end of January and it’s only after that, at the Super Bowl, that they get the networks’ final asks.
So what do they do in January? That month, for the most part, is spent identifying and trying to place what they call the “constrained” games. Inside the template of 256 total games, they’ll wind up with about 50 of those (nearly 20%) that can only be moved so far in one direction or another.
“Mathematically speaking, it’s the most constrained games as we’re searching through this infinite solution space,” VP of broadcasting Mike North explained, before pointing to a TV with the schedule grid on it. “You see it up there in Week 5 in a blue box with an underline, that means Packers at Cowboys, Fox is blue, underline is doubleheader—Sunday afternoon 4:25, Packers-Cowboys sounds right.
“So at some point, Howard [Katz] looked at the list of 256, picked out Packers-Cowboys and said, ‘I think I like that as a Fox doubleheader, I don’t think I want to see it in Week 1, I’m not sure we want to save it til Week 16, so somewhere in the middle. You know the Cowboys are gonna be playing on Thanksgiving in Week 13, so you know it’s not gonna be there, they’re working around their own stadium blocks, they’ve got the Rangers playing across the street.
“So where’s the right place to deploy Packers-Cowboys to get maximum value out of that one asset? Multiply that conversation across all 256 of these games. How do you deliver maximum value from each one of these assets?”
Katz, the scheduling czar, then jumped in, “But what we’ll do is, we won’t just say, ‘That game has to be there.’ We’ll say, ‘OK, we’d like to see that game in any of the following weeks, so Mike will write a rule [into the computer] to make sure that game falls where we want it.’ There are other games where we’ll say, ‘We definitely want it in this week and only this week.’ What the computer does is generate seed schedules based on whatever Mike has put into the computer as eligible. So the seed schedules may have 36-to-50-some-odd games.”
And North said, “The further we get into the process, the more constrained we get, as we start seeing things that we like and don’t like, lock something in, lock something out, the smaller your seed has to be to still have enough flexibility to solve around it with a finished playable schedule.”
“But each of the seed schedules, and there are literally millions and millions and millions,” Katz said. “each of the seed schedules will put games in spots based on what Mike has told the computer. ‘We’re willing to see this game in any of these different spots.’ Every seed schedule is different.”
As you can tell, it’s complicated—the guys in that room kept comparing it to a Rubik’s Cube—and it’s important, as the league dedicating five officials to it for three-plus months would indicate. Remember, each ratings point can add to a lot of money for the league. And as we get closer to the next set of broadcast rights deals (the current ones expire in 2023), it’s easy to figure that these things are only going to become more vital to how the league is doing business.
1) The Raiders sending their scouts home certainly got the attention of those in the NFL community on Friday. As I’ve heard it, those guys were in town for the previous three and a half weeks. Generally, even the teams that don’t let their scouts into the final set of meetings just before the draft will keep them around in case they have to pull them in to discuss a prospect or a position. And so the fact that the Oakland staff was sent for the airport, and not told when they’d return (and most aren’t expecting to), at that juncture was unusual. But I’m not sure there’s a whole lot else there. Mayock, in his first draft as GM, and with three first-rounders, wants to be careful. And he knows how information is trafficked this time of year, having been on the other side of it in the media. Still, that’s not the end of it. If Mayock does clear out the scouting department, he’ll likely run into challenges similar to those that faced Buffalo two years ago, trying to hire guys who may be under contract in other places. And then, there’s the back end of the draft. Generally, the scouting department does the heavy lifting on college free agents, tapping into their connections to try and pluck players from across the country. You’d assume that’ll be more difficult without the scouts around.
2) If Murray goes first overall, it won’t have cost him in the draft process. But there are certainly questions out there from the people who have met with him about how much football he knows. His athleticism is unquestioned. He can pick stuff up. Yet he’s struggled some with teams on the board. That issue dovetailed with the fact that he didn’t have the rep for being a grinder in college that, by comparison, former teammate Baker Mayfield did. And there was his benching for the first few plays of the Baylor game last fall, a result of Murray being late for a couple 6 a.m. Friday walkthroughs. At other positions, of course, these sorts of things aren’t as big a deal. At quarterback, they usually merit some deeper digging. Maybe with school, and presumably baseball, out of the picture, you’ll get a different Murray. I haven’t heard his aptitude for learning the position questioned. But how much he knows has come up a bunch in my discussions with teams on the quarterbacks in this year’s class.
3) You may notice the number of offensive linemen in my mock draft (eight), and my feeling is that it is, in part, yet another example of teams looking ahead a year to frame their strategy. You’ve read in this space that some teams may wait on quarterbacks and receivers, seeing what this year’s class is, and knowing those positions have potential to be significantly stronger in 2020. With the offensive linemen, the opposite is happening. Not only has it gotten harder to find and develop offensive linemen (which is why so many established ones have gotten paid both in free agency and by their own teams), a peek ahead to next year has revealed a relatively barren landscape. Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg and Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz have a shot as headliners, but there’s not a ton of depth or overall promise—which has created urgency for teams to get their guys in 2019. We mentioned last week that the idea of just hitting “a double off the wall” in Round 1 with interior guys like Bradbury, Lindstrom, McCoy and Ford made sense in a year without a ton of elite prospects at premium spots was appealing to teams. And it makes even more sense if you don’t think you’ll be able to hit one next year.
4) I would pay attention to Sweat’s decision not to go to Nashville for the draft. We had it in the Monday Afternoon Quarterback last week that his heart condition would knock him off some teams’ boards. And it doesn’t end there. Failed drug tests earlier on as a collegian, his dismissal from Michigan State, and his handling of the pre-draft process have added to the trepidation teams have on the 6' 6", 260-pound freak, who blistered a 4.41 40-yard dash and posted a 36-inch vertical in Indy. Thursday could be interesting for a player who, on talent, should be a Top 10 pick.
5) The future of Seahawks DE Frank Clark hangs in the balance this week, and it’d hardly be a surprise if Seattle moves him. One team to watch closely—the Chiefs. Yes, it could be complicated for K.C., given Clark’s past, and the year they’ve had, from Kareem Hunt to Tyreek Hill. But they’ve discussed making the move to replace Dee Ford with a 6' 3", 265-pound end who would be a better fit in Steve Spagnuolo’s base defense than Ford projected to be. Word on the street is the Seahawks are driving a hard bargain, asking for a first- and a second-round pick, and there’d be the matter of working through a long-term deal off Clark’s $17.1 million franchise tag. But the Chiefs are in an interesting spot to do something like that—with their first-rounder sitting at the bottom of the round and cap space there with QB Patrick Mahomes still on his rookie deal. As always, stay tuned.
6) The veteran trade market should be active this week. Clark’s name is the biggest, but not the only big one. Teams are keeping an eye on former Cardinals first-rounder Robert Nkemdiche. And San Francisco’s Arik Armstead could be involved in discussions, too (although I’m told he is in the Niners’ plans at this point). Oakland’s Justin Ellis, who the Raiders signed to a three-year, $13.5 million deal last March, is another defensive lineman who’s believed to be available. And most of you know about Duke Johnson’s situation in Cleveland. As for receivers, I did ask a couple teams, and the most significant name I could come away with that could be moved was Dallas’s Allan Hurns, who’s coming off a significant injury. There just aren’t a lot of answers at that position this offseason, which leads us back to…
7) There are teams that have D.K. Metcalf, despite his physical tools, as the third receiver in what’s a pretty mediocre class at the position. There’s a lot of love out there for Oklahoma’s Hollywood Brown. And after asking around the last few days, I can tell you a good number of respected evaluators actually prefer Meltcalf’s Ole Miss teammate, A.J. Brown, to him. I think those three could come off the board in any order, with Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry a wild card in that mix.
8) So who will the Russell Wilson contract really affect? I don’t think it changes much for Patrick Mahomes or even Carson Wentz, who’ll get top dollar whenever they get extended. But I think it could create some difficulty down the line in negotiations involving guys like Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, Dallas’s Dak Prescott or Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky. On one hand, it seems like it would be out of hand for those guys to ask for money inching close to $40 million aper year. On the other, Oakland’s Derek Carr became football’s highest paid player after just one really good year, and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo topped him and everyone else seven months later, with just seven career starts on his ledger. So maybe it wouldn’t be? Which is to say, yes, the skyrocketing of the quarterback market—the top end of it rose 40 percent (from $25 million to $35 million in average per year) over the last 22 months—may well complicated things in a few locales.
9) I saw that Giants GM Dave Gettleman said this to NJ.com’s Steve Politi: “I’ve been to seven Super Bowls. I feel very strongly that I know what it should look like, what it should smell like, what it should taste like. And, so, you can look at me and say, well, I either know what I’m doing or I’m a big fat rabbit’s foot. Neither one’s bad, right? I like my resume so far.” I’m gonna agree with him, and I know that’s not popular. Gettleman inherited a salary cap tire fire in Carolina and cleaned it up quickly. The Panthers went 12-4 in his first year, then won the division at 7-8-1 in his rip-the-band-aid off campaign of 2014, and came back to go 15-1 and make it to the Super Bowl in 2015, with a roster rebuilt on the fly. And his firing had very little to do with his team-building acumen. So I’d say it’d be fair to give him more than a year to rework what was a really bad roster in New York.
10) We’re right at the end of the evaluation process, but these last few days can be the time when teams try and sneak guys in without anyone knowing—with the thinking going that there’s less time for word of meetings or workouts leaking one. One happened over the weekend with the Cardinals working out Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry (as my buddy Ian Rapoport reported Saturday). Another example was Patriots OC Josh McDaniels meeting with Baker Mayfield the Monday before the draft last year. And we’ve got a good story from a few years back of one working out. It was 2008, and the day before the final day for in-house visits, the Texans contacted Texas DT Frank Okam and asked him if he could get from his hometown of Dallas to Houston the next day. He said yes, drove over, answered Houston’s questions about his passion for the game. And days later, they took him in the fifth round. So keep an eye out for these this week.
…OF THE WEEK
“I understand that, but I can’t change their opinions. Not being cocky in any way, but if a Rookie of the Year doesn’t sway that mindset then I don’t know what will. My mindset is continue to prove to the people in this locker room and this building that they got the right guy. A guy who is going to buy-in and get other people to buy-in and take that leadership role. I’ve been able to show that show so far, and I believe I can take that to another other level.”
Giants RB Saquon Barkley on whether New York should’ve taken a quarterback second overall last year. This is a fair response from him, but the answer to what will sway the mindset is simple: The Giants needs to win. And that may be an unfair standard to pin on a running back, which is exactly why the question is being asked in the first place. If Sam Darnold becomes what the Jets think he will, then the only thing that will silence those questions is the Giants finding the right guy at the position, and a way to get back in contention with Barkley there.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was wearing a “spiritual gangster” shirt, by the way. And yup, that’s a shot at Anthony Davis, who may or may not be in Kerr’s division next year (probably not).
Now, this wasn’t very nice of Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. (By the way, Lawrence has upped his trolling of Eli Manning to now include a shot of he and the Giants quarterback on the banner of his twitter page. I’m not even kidding.)
Not sure what Rovell’s getting at, but I support it.
S/O to Pro Football Talk czar Mike Florio for calling my attention to this very special look at the Vikings’ schedule.
Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, for doing something pretty cool in his everyday life for someone else when he didn’t have to.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES…
1) For the first time in forever, the NBA’s East semis should be fantastic—so long as the Bucks, Sixers and Raptors close out their series as everyone expects them to. Those three and the Celtics bring plenty of star power to the table, and this should be a good introduction to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid for casual fans, and a re-introduction to Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard after those two missed last year’s playoffs.
2) Gotta be happy for Gordon Hayward, going home and playing well in a playoff setting, after the 18 months he’s had.
3) NBA Playoff ratings being down 26 percent can’t be all that surprising with LeBron James out of the mix. But it does underscore, again, how star driven basketball is, and how critical it is for that league to elevate guys like the four we mentioned above over the next month or so, because LeBron might be back next year, but he won’t around forever.
4) Was interesting listening to Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel’s podcast on Sunday and hearing that Washington QB Jacob Eason, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Georgia, has been a little disappointing this spring, with most expecting he’ll take over for four-year starter Jake Browning. Eason was one quarterback I had my eye on to be a potential Murray/Haskins breakout draft prospect in 2019.
5) Was weird seeing Albert Pujols’s name in a headline again, but there he was.
6) This is a commitment to journalism. (Happy Easter, by the way!)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
You knew I wouldn’t leave the teams without first-rounders hanging, right? There are four of them—Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland—and this is as good a place as any to assess whether or not their moves out of the round were worth it.
And the easy conclusion to make? It was.
The Cowboys (needs: DT, FS) landed Amari Cooper for what wound up being the 27th pick. Provided they re-sign Cooper, and they plan to, he’s a better prospect than any of the guys in this year’s draft class. By a fairly wide margin. And still just 24.
The Bears (needs: OLB, RB) got Khalil Mack for, with some pick swapping mixed in, the 24th pick and their first-rounder next year. I’d say they’re happy with that, Mack having changed the face of their team in Year 1 of the Matt Nagy Era. It’d take something pretty crazy happening soon for Chicago to regret that one, though there’s plenty of room for Oakland to make the deal work for them too.
The Browns (needs: CB, S) and Saints (DE, TE) are murkier—Cleveland, because we haven’t seen Odell Beckham suit up yet, and New Orleans, because we haven’t seen enough of Marcus Davenport. But given how those two stack up against players available where those picks are (17th and 30th, respective), you can make a strong case that both teams have a really good shot at coming out winners.
So what you need to know from all this: Being aggressive and creative as a problem solver helps, even if it might make some draft day down the line a little less exciting.
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