Jameis Winston Is Ready for His Combine Closeup
The big story of the NFL combine will happen early. Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback who has as much to prove this week as Johnny Manziel did last year, will arrive Wednesday in Indianapolis. He'll have a slew of timed 15-minute get-to-know-you meetings with teams on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night. Winston also will meet the media in a controlled 15-minute mob session Thursday, work out on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf Saturday afternoon, then depart from town Saturday evening.
Winston has spent three weeks in San Diego with quarterback guru George Whitfield and a fitness team—along with eight football interns to play offense and defense with him—to prep him for what awaits at the combine. And there’s so much for Winston to answer, as we all know.
But here’s Whitfield on his pupil. Whitfield and Winston have worked together on and off since Winston performed at the Elite 11 camp for quarterbacks after his junior year in high school, so Whitfield knows him pretty well. “To me, Jameis is a savant," Whitfield said. “He’s not an Olympian, not an RG3 [Robert Griffin III] type athlete. He doesn’t have a Matthew Stafford cannon. But some organizations in the NFL are anchored by a singular figure at quarterback. Then there are organizations, more of them, with guys trying to be that singular figure at quarterback. Jameis is the former, and he’s got the great pocket awareness NFL quarterbacks have to have. I have no reservations about him. Teams will do their due diligence, and we will see.”
Due diligence. That’s going to be important. Winston, at Florida State, was investigated for sexual assault but not charged. He was charged with stealing $32 worth of crablegs from a supermarket, and ordered to perform community service. He was suspended for a half, and then the full game, after screaming an obscenity in FSU’s student union.
Then there’s the matter of his 18 interceptions last season. As Mike Mayock told me in my Monday column: “I’m scared to death of Jameis Winston off the field, and I’m scared to death of how many interceptions he throws. He threw seven interceptions against Louisville and Florida, and it could have been 12 or 13 if the other team could catch the ball."
To be fair, Mayock thinks Winston is a strong prospect—for his precocious play from the pocket in an NFL scheme at Florida State, and for his ability to play so well from behind. That’s going to be important because it’s likely Winston will be playing from behind a lot with the Bucs or Jets or Rams or Browns or whoever.
Whitfield said he used the three weeks he’s spent with Winston since the college football season ended in getting him healthy (he had a high ankle sprain late in the season) and in better shape (he’s dropped 12 pounds), and increasing his urgency in the pocket and in his motion. Whitfield used the eight interns to form the back end of a defense, and to drop and play NFL coverages. “Florida State had a 400-level NFL curriculum," said Whitfield, “and it was very hard for us to confuse him out there."
About the off-field problems and questions he’ll face, Whitfield told Winston to come clean. “We’ve be on that, over and over," Whitfield said, “and the only way to handle it is to be honest. Admit what happened. Don’t hide from it. Tell them what you were thinking. Discuss everything openly."
Last year, Whitfield’s client, Manziel, was given the same advice. Manziel was able, time after time and with team after team and reporter after reporter, to say the same. He told the same stories, and convinced teams he was on a better path. Of course, he wasn’t able to stay on that path during the season, and there may be a lesson in that for teams. But you can be sure Winston will be the focus of investigations by teams that have even the slightest interest.
About the interceptions, Whitfield said it developed from a “trust issue" with some of his young receivers last year. “After the trust he had with Kelvin Benjamin, and then Kelvin left, he had some trouble developing that with some of the younger guys this last year," Whitfield said.
There will be plenty of time for those discussions in Indianapolis, and after that. Ten weeks of discussions. The draft is a little more than 10 weeks away. This is just the opening act.
Now onto your email:
GOODELL'S BLOATED SALARY. Roger Goodell earned $35 million in 2013, and the NFL generated revenues of $9 billion that year. That means Goodell was paid 0.389% of the NFL’s revenue to lead the organization. Per today’s MMQB, Peyton Manning, to whom you compare Goodell, earned $17.5 million in 2013. According to Google, the Denver Broncos generated $283 million in 2013. That means Manning was paid 6.18% of the Bronco’s revenue to lead the team on the field. Tell me more about how Goodell is overpaid.
—Jon, Currituck, N.C.
It doesn’t really have much to do with me thinking that Roger Goodell is overpaid. It has to do with the majority of NFL fans. There’s no question in my mind that if you polled 100 ardent NFL fans, the majority would want Roger Goodell replaced, and more than that would believe he is significantly overpaid. Using your logic, it would be fair to pay Goodell $300 million, because that would be less than the relative worth of Peyton Manning to the Broncos. As I said on Monday, I’m not sure that there is a logical number that a person is worth other than what someone agrees to pay him. All I know is that the heat is on Roger Goodell right now, and the heat is not going away. And making $35 million in one year is just more cause for the average fan to say, “Goodell must go.”
ADRIAN PETERSON'S FUTURE. Will Adrian Peterson be back with the Vikings next season?
Many teams will be very interested in finding out the answer this spring. Now that Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf has said he supports Peterson returning, it is at least possible that Peterson could play for Minnesota in 2015 and beyond. But I do not believe that it is a gimme yet. Simple reason: The Vikings are not going to want a reticent Peterson returning to the team in 2015. If he is going to mope about being there, it’s not going to be a good marriage going forward. If he moves on from Minnesota, I see a couple of interesting alternatives. If the Dallas Cowboys do not re-sign DeMarco Murray, there’s no question in my mind that Peterson would intrigue Jerry Jones. The Ravens also would be smitten with the prospect of landing Peterson. But in Dallas or Baltimore, it will take some imaginative cap work for Peterson to land there.
COLD-WEATHER COMBINE. Watching NFL Network's domed combine coverage, I was wondering if NFL teams ever work prospects through cold temperatures or less than ideal weather conditions? Many colleges never play in cold climates, and others wrap their schedule before the weather really turns. The NFL, of course, plays its most important games through November through January. It might be nice to know if draftees will be up to that task, yes?
Excellent point. Really smart. In fact, had I been the Vikings last year, and had I seriously been considering drafting Teddy Bridgewater, I would have asked his people to bring Bridgewater to Minneapolis in March so he could work outside. I’m not saying that would have made the difference in whether to draft him or not, but it's another good information point. If Bridgewater had a difficult time throwing the ball on a frigid windy day, that’s something I would have liked to factor into my final decision.
REPLAY FOR HELMET HITS. After reviewing Super Bowl XLIX, it is apparent that the referees let them play. I have no real complaints with how the game was officiated, but it did seem to me that there were a few helmet-to-helmet hits that would have normally been flagged. One came on Tom Brady's first interception; it looked like his helmet was almost knocked off. And of course, there was the hit on Julian Edelman that might have given him a concussion. Seems like the NFL is walking a mighty fine line on these calls.
—Ralph, Ellington, Conn.
That’s one of the reasons why I believe that every call should be subject to instant replay. It’s hard to blame the officials when the action happens at the speed it does. In the case of helmet-to-helmet hits, it’s easy to see on super-slow-motion whether it’s a legitimate butting of helmets and thus a penalty, but that often isn’t the case at game speed. That’s why I would be in favor of allowing coaches to throw a challenge flag if he feels a gratuitous helmet-to-helmet hit has been made. (Important to note: I'm not for increasing the number of replay challenges a coach would have during a game, though.)
ALL EYES ON QUARTERBACKS. With the combine approaching this weekend, is there a particular player or position group that you are most excited to evaluate?
—Charlie, Glenshaw, Pa.
I would say quarterback. At least four teams in the top 10 are interested in drafted a quarterback or signing one in free agency. There are lots of questions about Marcus Mariota’s ability to transition to the NFL from the Oregon spread offense. There are just as many questions about the off-field problems of Jameis Winston, plus his penchant for throwing interceptions. Neither is a lock to be an NFL star. So all of the teams in the top half of the first round must study those quarterbacks well because they might have a chance to select one of them. Then there’s the matter of the second-level quarterbacks, like Bryce Petty of Baylor. He’s a tremendously productive player, but he will have to adjust to a new way of football in the NFL. I think the quarterback position in general is fascinating this year because there are no sure things but quite a few compelling players.
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