INDIANAPOLIS — The next generation of NFL signal callers just flew into town on Wednesday. They won’t work out until Saturday, but the frantic search for quality quarterbacks is the biggest agenda item as teams descend on Indianapolis for the NFL combine.
With the combine ending the day before the legal tampering period of free agency begins, the next week or so is the time for teams with a glaring need at quarterback—Cleveland, the Jets and the entirely quarterback-less 49ers among them—to chart a plan for the most important position on the roster. That can happen in the interview rooms or back-channel meetings with agents or other teams.
The biggest domino in this offseason’s quarterback sweeps is Patriots back-up Jimmy Garoppolo. The MMQB’s Peter King has written for a few weeks that he’d be surprised if the Patriots traded Tom Brady’s back-up, and Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Garoppolo will not be dealt, at any price. If that holds true, and if the Patriots truly can’t be swayed by a package like a first- and a third-round pick from a very interested team like the Browns, that will be a sea change for the quarterback marketplace.
Garoppolo, who started just two games for the Patriots during Brady’s suspension, is not a sure thing as a starter. But all you need to know about how teams around the league view him is that the Patriots are intent on holding onto the 25-year-old, taken with a second-round pick in 2014. If he’s not available, teams in the market for a starting quarterback will have to order off a menu that no longer includes the best dish. The remaining choices:
1) Another young back-up with a small set of starting experience, like Mike Glennon (a free agent) or AJ McCarron (under contract for one more year in Cincinnati). If you’re the Browns, good luck getting Mike Brown to trade McCarron within the division.
2) A veteran like Tony Romo or Jay Cutler, who are expected to be available either by trade or as free agents if their teams release them, or Colin Kaepernick, who will reportedly opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Asking around about potential trade value, I’ve heard in the neighborhood of a third-round pick for Romo and a fifth-round pick for Cutler. Given the going rate for quarterbacks, Romo’s contract is not prohibitive for a trade, though the Cowboys releasing him appears to be the most likely outcome. The Bears would have to wait for Cutler to pass a physical before executing a trade, and he certainly wouldn’t fit into every locker room. But he still has the arm talent and, as one team executive put it, “there are not enough quality quarterbacks, so he will definitely be a starter in 2017.”
3) Draft a quarterback. Top prospects Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) all have talent but flaws that cast doubt on whether any of them can be a Day 1 starter.
That last option might be the best one. Think the Eagles in 2016. They triple-downed on quarterbacks, extending Sam Bradford, adding Chase Daniel in free agency and trading up in the draft to nab Carson Wentz. They then recouped some draft capital back by trading Bradford to Minnesota at the start of the season. The idea: There’s no more important position on the field than quarterback, so give yourself as many options as possible so you’re not left out in the cold.
We’re a week from free agency opening, and two months from the draft, but this much is for certain: The conversations in Indianapolis over the next few days will set the course for how the QB dominoes fall in 2017.
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• Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter was eager to address Jameis Winston’s comments during an elementary school appearance in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week. The quarterback was giving a motivational speech to a group of third- through-fifth graders, but his message veered off course when a group of boys started to lose focus. He asked the boys to stand up and the girls to stay seated. “The ladies, they're supposed to be silent, polite, gentle,” Winston said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong.”
Winston later apologized for his “poor word choice.” Per the Tampa Bay Times, those words raised some eyebrows in the classroom, including one female student, who told a teacher, “I’m strong, too.”
Koetter seemed rankled about the scrutiny of his quarterback’s words. He defended Winston, but didn’t give any indication, at least publicly, of if or how his player might have learned from the situation.
“Anyone who knows Jameis Winston knows that when Jameis gets up in the morning, he’s trying to do good things out there, whether it be improve himself, help our team get better or do something good in the community,” Koetter said. “In the midst of a school presentation, he made a mistake and he owned up to that mistake. He’s 23 years old. I think anyone who has to stand behind a microphone and talk to a group of people, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time and there’s been other ones in the sports world very recently.
He continued: “Jameis continues to exceed expectations as the face of our franchise every single day. We couldn’t be happier with Jameis. It was an unfortunate situation, he owned up to it and we’ve got to move forward.”
• Lions GM Bob Quinn spoke out against the NFL’s policy of not inviting to the combine prospects with a conviction involving violence or use of a weapon, domestic violence or a sexual offense. Among those not invited to this year’s combine are former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who was videotaped punching a female student in 2014.
“It’s really disappointing that Joe is not here,” Quinn said. “We have a lot of investigation that we want to do on him, and to get him in one spot for all the teams would have been great … it’s really not fair to the players, to be honest with you.”
Quinn is certainly not the only one in the NFL who feels that way. But, it’s important to remember that Mixon is not here because of his own actions. Perhaps it’s unfair to the teams, but it’s not unfair to Mixon.
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On the Docket
On Thursday, we’ll hear from ten more head coaches and seven more general managers, starting with Browns head coach Hue Jackson at 9 a.m. The first group of players (PK, ST, OL, RB) will compete in the bench press, which for the first time will be attended by fans, in an exhibit hall in the convention center. (Yes, fans are paying to watch a bunch of 20-somethings eke out reps of 225-pound presses.)