The NFL Scouting Combine is always rife with storylines. However, this year is dominated by Kyler Murray, and how the biggest interview of his life plays out.
Kyler Murray and the importance of height. The great battle of Indianapolis is about to commence.
Talking to a pair of NFL general managers, little could be agreed upon in terms of what matters for Murray during the Scouting Combine. One felt it was important that he showcase his talents in the drills, including throwing. The other believed Murray didn’t need to participate, because interested teams would get their fill during private visits over the next two months.
“I think he should do drills,” texted one GM. “Not sure why he wouldn’t. He should do well? Don’t think there is a need to grill him at this point. It’s a 15 minute interview. Teams that are interested will undoubtedly spend much more time with him and speak with him much more in depth.”
However, both agreed adamantly on one thing. If Murray isn’t six-feet tall, they wouldn’t draft him.
Heading into the week, Murray is expected to measure between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10. If that’s the case, he is fighting an uphill battle against history. If taken in the first round, the Heisman Trophy winner would become the first quarterback under six-feet to be drafted that high since 1953, when Ted Marchibroda went to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While there’s hand wringing from fans and pundits that size doesn’t matter in the face of production, many of those risking their careers aren’t making that bet. At the college level, Murray enjoys the benefit of wider splits from his offensive linemen. There have been a bevy of short quarterbacks who thrived in the college game, from Doug Flutie to Kellen Moore. It doesn’t typically translate.
At the pro level, diminutive quarterbacks have largely struggled to find success. Between larger defensive fronts, smaller splits and having to play more within the pocket, the challenges quickly mount. There are outliers with small signal-callers succeeding in the NFL such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, but that’s the exception to the rule. It’s important to note that Brees was a second-round pick who was replaced before the end of his rookie contract by Philip Rivers, while Wilson was taken in the third round as a backup to Matt Flynn.
In short, general managers, coaching staffs and personnel departments weren’t staking their careers on those decisions.
With Murray, there’s risk in taking him should he fall out of the first round. The guaranteed money shrinks, and the economics start to favor a return to baseball. When the Oakland A’s signed Murray after drafting him ninth-overall back in June, the two sides agreed on a $4.66 million signing bonus. Once we hit the second round, Spotrac’s figures have Murray being guaranteed $3.854 million. The slide could very well be on at that point.
Murray can talk about being committed to football all he wants, but there reality is that he said those same things about baseball less than a year ago. Just ask the A’s how much Murray’s word means.
Come Indianapolis, Murray can throw. He can run. He can jump. He can dazzle. For some it’ll mean nothing. For others, it’ll speak volumes.
Yet, for so many, none of it matters if he measures below 72 inches. Welcome to the NFL.
Top 10 candidates to bounce back in 2018
1. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
2. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
3. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
4. Doug Badlwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
6. Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals
7. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
8. Melvin Ingram, OLB, Los Angeles Chargers
9. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Joe Flacco, QB, Denver Broncos
“He didn’t lose his job to Blaine. He was coming off of three surgeries and needed more time to heal. Once healed, he started again. No more false narratives in 2019 please. He’s in the best shape of his life, and ready to help win a championship.”
– Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid on Colin Kaepernick’s history, desire to play again
Reid, a close friend and former teammate in San Francisco of Kaepernick, is pining for his guy to get another chance. With the collusion case between the duo and the NFL now settled, Kaepernick has an opportunity to get back into the league. While hopes are slim, the Panthers are the team where it could happen.
New owner David Tepper is open-minded, evidenced by Reid signing last season before inking a three-year, $22 million deal in January. The Panthers could certainly upgrade behind Cam Newton, who is overcoming should surgery. Lastly, Carolina plays a system conducive to Kaepernick’s talents. If there’s a perfect fit, this might be it.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box every week. This time around, the guys talk Antonio Brown, the AFC North’s future, free agency rumors and more. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes!
Since 1970, quarterbacks of the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears have combined for only two First-Team All-Pro teams.
Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers have enjoyed five MVP campaigns from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Just a bit lopsided in the NFC North.
Info learned this week
1. Robert Kraft ugliness won’t go away quietly
The NFL has a major issue on its hands. This time, it centers on the owner of its championship team.
On Friday, Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution. That charge, while unseemly, isn’t a game-changer. However, Kraft’s charge is in connection with a suspected human trafficking ring in Jupiter, Fla. As of Monday morning, Kraft’s arrest warrant hasn’t been issued yet, and the Patriots’ owner maintains his innocence of all charges.
GOING DEEP: Kraft’s plight puts Goodell, NFL in tough spot
While it remains unclear if Kraft was aware of, or involved in the ring, it presents a bevy of ugly questions.
With NFL players consistently punished by commissioner Roger Goodell without being found guilty of a crime, does Kraft get the same treatment? Will Kraft be suspended for the first six games of the year and fined a maximum of $500,000 as allowed by the league’s collectively bargained Personal Conduct Policy? If so, those in New England will scream from the proverbial rooftops that, once again, Goodell has an axe to grind with the franchise.
For now, speculating on how the case will go for Kraft is both unproductive at best and reckless at worst. In the immediate future, though, Goodell has to be out in front of this. A commissioner and a league long charged with not valuing women can’t afford to look unresponsive.
2. Packers, Raiders make most sense for Antonio Brown
The Pittsburgh Steelers have agreed to shop Antonio Brown. Two teams have the edge in acquiring him.
Only the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers own multiple first-round picks this April. Oakland possesses three (Nos. 4, 24 and 27) while Green Bay has a pair (Nos. 12, 30). With that kind of draft capital, the Raiders and Packers are immediately well-positioned to go after Brown if they so choose.
Oakland is the more-likely Bay Area destination, even with the San Francisco 49ers sitting as the odds-on favorites in the Mr. Big Chest sweepstakes. San Francisco isn’t moving the second-overall pick, putting it at an assets disadvantage.
While there has been talk about the New York Jets being a player, there are multiple stumbling blocks. New York isn’t going to trade the third-overall pick, and it doesn’t own a second-round choice after trading it to the Indianapolis Colts a year ago. Additionally, Brown playing in New York is an obvious red flag.
Speaking of Indianapolis, the Colts have the most cap space of any team and an extra second-round selection. General manager Chris Ballard could package up a combination of his early picks to bring Brown aboard, but is that in the cards? Indianapolis needs ample defensive help and after drafting a pair of All-Pros last spring in Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, Ballard might prefer keeping his picks to continue the rebuild.
3. Trey Flowers, Preston Smith to get paid on open market
The focus heading into free agency is largely on Le’Veon Bell, and we’ll get to him later. In the meantime, start looking at a pair of defensive names you ought to know.
In a league that increasingly values versatility, Trey Flowers and Preston Smith are well-positioned as March approaches. Flowers, who starred in New England’s latest Super Bowl jaunt, is not likely to get the franchise tag form the Patriots, per a FanSided source. As for Smith, FanSided has also learned he’s not getting tagged, which means either a long-term deal with the Redskins prior to March 11, or free agency.
With Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and DeMarcus Lawrence all likely getting tagged or signed long-term (Lawrence could be inked, the others are getting tagged), Flowers and Smith are in line to get paid.
Flowers, 27, can play all over the defensive line long with his capability to stand up on the edge. Smith, 26, won’t be paid to the degree of Flowers, but he’ll command a significant chunk of dough. In four seasons with Washington, Smith notched 59 quarterback hits, 24.5 sacks and four interceptions. As importantly, he’s never missed a game.
Young, talented and versatile, Smith and Flowers are about to be much richer.
4. Le’Veon Bell would make sense in Baltimore
The rumors are flying around when talking about Le’Veon Bell to people within the league. One team to keep an eye on in this pursuit? The Steelers’ most-hated rival, the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore makes ample sense when looking at the situation. The Ravens have a run-first quarterback in Lamar Jackson who will be running a multitude of RPOs and quick throws. Bell is the perfect fit for both of those things. Just as Chris Johnson rushed for more than 2,000 yards when playing next to Vince Young, a strong running quarterback, and Marshawn Lynch had his best seasons when lined up next to Russell Wilson. Bell could be even more explosive next to Jackson.
Additionally, it’s the ultimate twist of the knife from both Bell and the Ravens towards Pittsburgh. Baltimore has the cap space to make a competitive offer if it chooses. The Ravens have $22 million to spend, and while they have their own free agents to make decisions on — C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith — they could decide to upgrade the offense in a significant way.
5. Chiefs defense will undergo significant transformation
Last season, Kansas City fell short due to a porous defense. The Chiefs are hellbent on avoiding that fate in 2019.
FanSided has learned Kansas City is likely going to tag Dee Ford. It’s unlikely the Chiefs are will to restructure Justin Houston’s contract in a way that includes more guaranteed money into the future. That means he’ll likely be a cap casualty. Houston, 30, registered nine sacks last year and two more in the playoffs. Despite an injury history, he’ll be paid well on the open market.
By firing defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and replacing him with Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs did two things. One, they became more flexible in their schemes. Two, they switched from a base 3-4 to a 4-3. Luckily for general manager Brett Veach, many of the pieces are already in place.
The Chiefs have a strong internal belief in defensive end Breeland Speaks and outside linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. Both are second-year players who stand to have significant roles in 2019. Additionally, last offseason’s splash signing of middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens went splat. Now back in the 4-3 he thrived in with the Cowboys, Hitchens stands to be much-improved.
Finally, by releasing Houston to practically pay Ford’s tag, the Chiefs maintain approximately $25 million in cap space. Kansas City realizes it needs to upgrade the secondary and will do so both in free agency and the draft, where it has four picks in the top 100.
If the Chiefs don’t reach the Super Bowl next season — which they are favorites to win — it won’t be because they didn’t attempt to shore up the defense.
Jerry Rice amassed an NFL-record 22,895 receiving yards during his career. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald ranks second behind Rice with 16,279 yards.
The difference of 6,616 yards is more than the gap between Fitzgerald and former New Orleans Saints star Marques Colston, who checks in 52nd all-time on the list.
The story of the combine isn’t on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s in the steakhouses and bars.
For agents and teams, free agency begins when the league descends upon Indianapolis this week even with the tampering period a few weeks away. In Naptown, the espionage begins.
One agent detailed how teams will talk to representatives in a hotel suite, discussing a player’s asking price. Then, the agent will hang outside the room watching another agent enter, sometimes repping a different player at the same position. Listen through the door long enough, and a conversation over that asking price can be heard. Translation? Leverage, baby.
“There’s a whole business contention side that’s not broadcast into your home on NFL Network,” said another longtime NFL agent, Ian Greengross.
The combine can also serve as a learning ground.
Another agent described an afternoon lunch at St. Elmo’s — sensing a theme? — that turned into an informative event. While eating, the agent overheard a general manager talking about his prospect, relaying to a scout that the youngster was believed to be a jerk. While it became evident said team wasn’t going to select the kid, the agent went into league-wide damage control while finding out the root of the issue.
Of course, there are the legendary stories as well. In 2010, the New Orleans Saints were coming off their first Super Bowl win. In the aftermath, head coach Sean Payton sent a playful message to Dallas Cowboys owner — and former boss — Jerry Jones. Jones, who goes to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse each year, reserved the establishment’s only bottle of 2007 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Payton got to it first, drank it, and left a note detailing that the Saints were Super Bowl XLIV champions.
Speaking of Jones, there are a legion of stories pertaining to what goes down on the Cowboys’ bus. From contract talks to cocktails, it’s a legendary venue.
This week, the combine comes to your television.
What happens away from the cameras, though, sets up the next few months.