MMQB Roundtable: From the Combine to Free Agency

Thursday February 26th, 2015

And now for something completely different.

Well, not really. The MMQB is stealing an idea from our friends at Golf.com, who run a fun feature called Tour Confidential, in which their staffers discuss the events of the week on the PGA tour. We ripped the idea off, proudly, and today are debuting The MMQB Roundtable.

On Tuesday night three MMQB reporters who spent last weekend at the combine in Indianapolis—Peter King, Jenny Vrentas and Robert Klemko—connected by instant messaging to exchange views on a range of topics as the NFL exits the combine and heads into free-agency, with the draft still a little more than two months away. 

Topic 1: What player helped himself most at the combine?

Peter King: Kevin White of West Virginia, the receiver, helped himself a lot. He just looks like a top receiver. A taller guy who could be Larry Fitzgerald/Mike Evans productive in year one ... and he runs 4.35. He may have leapfrogged [Alabama wideout] Amari Cooper in Indy.

Jenny Vrentas: [Hobart offensive lineman] Ali Marpet is one answer.

King: Love that pick, Jenny! Ali Marpet of Hobart, the tiny school that plays teams like Worcester Polytech. Fastest lineman at the combine. Had a good Senior Bowl. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but he might be a second-day pick.

Robert Klemko: Clemson OLB Vic Beasley. What a ridiculous performance … 6.9 in the three cone and 35 bench reps of 225 pounds. I hate to say this, because I think we overvalue the combine, but I think he may have moved into the top third of the first round with that performance.

vic-beasley-combine-tr Clemson’s Beasley, who ran with the DL’s in Indy, impressed with his athleticism. (Todd Rosenberg for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

Vrentas: You know what I dislike about the bench press, though? It discriminates against guys with long arms. And long arms are good in the NFL!

King: That’s why you rock, Vrentas.

Klemko: It applies to Beasley ... 32.5 inch arms were one of the shortest for a pass rusher.

Topic 2: What will Tampa Bay do with the first pick?

Vrentas: I think the Bucs will take Jameis Winston. I think they’ll see a quarterback who is ready to run a pro-style offense right away, and that will distract them from the off-the field question marks.

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King: Take Jameis Winston, providing all the intel comes up clean. Seems too obvious—again, unless there’s a lot of baggage the Bucs find in discovery.

Klemko: Jameis. I think the Buccaneers and the Glazer family are looking for a face-of-the-franchise-type of passer as much as they’re searching for a winner. The Bucs consistently rank in the bottom five in attendance every season and haven’t had an iconic player on offense in decades. Even when they were contenders, the stars were Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp and John Lynch. I think they see this pick as an opportunity to grab a pro-ready quarterback who may not be a sure thing but will certainly put the national spotlight on the franchise. They’ll take Jameis … right after they figure out how and why he threw all of those interceptions.

King: I do think Jameis would be able to handle the bullcrap that goes with being the first player picked ... again, if he is pretty clean when the Bucs delve into his past.

Vrentas: One thing about those interceptions—that’s the nature of passing in a pro-style offense. You are learning to put the ball in those tight windows. I spent a while talking to an offensive coach about the college quarterback coming from a spread attack versus a pro-style offense. The skill and ability to throw into narrow passing windows is one of the aspects that sets apart the great quarterbacks in the NFL. Winston has that, even if it led to more interceptions in college. Marcus Mariota, who ran a college spread offense, doesn’t. That doesn’t mean he can’t learn, but it’s more of a question mark as to whether he can.

Topic 3: Whither Mariota, if Winston goes number one?

Vrentas: I have a hard time seeing Mariota drop past the Jets at six. Put another way: If he gets to the Jets at six, I think they should grab him.

King: I believe Mariota will go in the top six picks too. In fact, I think there will be competition to move ahead of the Jets and take him in the top five. I did my ridiculously early Fine Fifteen mock draft this week, and I’ve got the Eagles trading to number five to get him. With his potential and his too-good-to-be-true persona, someone’s going to gamble he can make the transition from spread to regular NFL offense. Or semi-regular, if you’re talking the Eagles.

Klemko: I don’t think there’s a way he gets past six, but I can remember everyone saying the same thing exactly 10 years ago when Aaron Rodgers fell all the way to 24. Mariota still has a pro day and a deep investigation into his football traits ahead of him, and like Jenny alluded to, he’s not necessarily ready to contribute right away, which was one knock on Rodgers. If he somehow fell beyond six, I think there’s a good chance the Bears snap him up at 7, depending entirely on the new staff’s evaluation of Cutler happening right now.

Could Mariota tumble the way Rodgers did in 2005? (Adam Rountree/AP) Could Mariota tumble the way Rodgers did in 2005? (Adam Rountree/AP)

King: The difference between this and Rodgers was there weren’t as many teams then that needed a quarterback. The Packers benefited from that. This year, the Rams, Browns and Eagles, at least, are in the quarterback market.

Klemko: In 2005 the Dolphins picked at 2 and decided to stand pat with a 34-year-old Gus Frerotte. The Lions at 10 were in Year Four of Joey Harrington and decided to wait until the fifth round to pick a quarterback—Dan Orlovsky. There was just something about Rodgers that made people uneasy, and it could happen with Mariota and his handful of career snaps under center. Let’s say the Eagles decide the price is too high to trade up, the Rams run with Bradford and wait until next year, and the Browns sign Josh McCown and resolve to groom Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw ... It could happen.

King: Good points. I like ’em a lot.

If he hits the market, Suh would be the most sought-after defensive line free agent since Reggie White. (Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)  If he hits the market, Suh would be the most sought-after defensive line free agent since Reggie White. (Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

Topic 4: Have we reached a saturation point with combine coverage? (Lord, please?)

Klemko: Selfishly, I like going to the combine because you get to finally meet and socialize with the people you’ve been texting with all year. In terms of practicality, I think the combine is important for two reasons, neither of which necessitates a media onslaught: prospect interviews and agent-team meetings on current NFL free agents. But only a handful of people are actually asking questions about those things. Mort needs to be at the combine. Schefter needs to be at the combine. You need to be at the combine, PK. You all are. But everybody huddled around the press conferences? Waste of time and money.

King: I’m conflicted on this. A lot of those 1,071 media who attended this year are actually NFL employees. Some teams had five, six, seven people from team websites in Indy to cover the combine, and to interview people like us. NFL Network probably had 200 people, in front and behind the cameras, at the combine. So though it’s still an insane number of media people, 500 or 600 members of the news media (and not the NFL-supported and -funded media) is a bit of a different story.

Vrentas: Those coaches and GMs come in for their press conferences, and they are in the media area for two-plus hours going up and down the radio row. It wasn’t that way, even five years ago, when I started going. Never want to complain about people being media-friendly. But that’s a big chunk of their day.

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King: Yeah, the press conferences are a waste of time. It would be better if each coach/GM saw the national guys in a scrum, then their locals in a scrum, then talked to the TVs. We just don’t get much out of it, normally. In my case, I usually wait for coaches or GMs I need to walk out, and then walk with them as they return to the workouts, or in between talk-show spots. That’s what I did with Jeff Fisher this year, and he was pretty good about some Competition Committee points.

Vrentas: You learn far more at 10 p.m. at Prime 47 than at a podium.

King: True, Jenny. But sometimes you need to get guys on the record. Those sessions at restaurants or bars are great for information, though.

Klemko: Bengals.com doesn’t need to be there with eight guys to interview Mark Dominick and Peter King, but the NFL will do and try anything to expand its brand. I’m shocked the opening of free agency isn’t a national holiday yet. NFL people call the combine Spring Break for coaches, and I see why. Kind of entertaining to watch all these football geniuses stumbling around darkened bars.

King: Robert took me out Saturday night. I am still recovering, but I loved it. I would never go to 110-decibel clubs. I met some interesting people I didn’t know. I appreciate Robert looking out for me.

Klemko: It was pretty funny. Here’s all these 20-somethings wearing Gucci and Jordans and midriffs in 30-degree weather, and here’s Peter with his hands in his winter coat and a smile on his face. I wish we took pictures.

MELVIN GORDON: Greg A. Bedard goes to the tape to determine whether the Wisconsin RB is first-round material

Topic 5: Should the combine move to different markets?

Klemko: I suggested that, and then I think it was Albert Breer who told me there’s no other city in the middle of the country with such a concentration of hospitals, hotels and an indoor stadium.

Vrentas: I get why it’s Indy. Convention town, plenty of hotel rooms, central in the U.S., they have something like three MRIs at the stadium. Plus, football people like routine.

Klemko: Wouldn’t it be such a huge pain if you actually had to DRIVE around the combine town?

King: Love Indy because of that. Cab into the city, and then you never have to get in a car again until you leave. Albert’s right. I think Indianapolis is the perfect city for it: centrally located in the country, with everything walkable, and all the medical facilities (for combine medical exams) very close.

Klemko: Albert’s always right.

Topic 6: What do we think about the draft being moved to Chicago this year?

Klemko: Why didn’t this happen a long time ago? Seems like you really only need one great venue to run it, as opposed to needing ideal infrastructure in a city for the combine ... Personally, I can’t wait to take everyone to Pequod’s, Union Sushi and Au Cheval, the very best in the city IMO.

King: The players walking a red carpet on Michigan Avenue will be cool to see—if that’s what they’re going to do. I think the draft should move around. There’s not a perfect venue in New York (the place in Chicago is even a little small), but I could see the kind of rotation that one day will bring it to rabid cities like Seattle and Green Bay. Why not?

Klemko: I think it should go to the city with the first pick. Who says the NFL can’t plan a draft in five months?

King: Logistical nightmare. But an interesting idea. Never say never with this league.

Klemko: Around Week 14 you’d have an idea of which two or three teams, and then you send out the NFL envoys and say, hey, the draft might be here. You’re welcome.

Vrentas: But what if the team trades out?

Klemko: Set it at the end of the year and don’t sweat it if it changes.

Vrentas: Plus, that might be too late to book the right venue in that city for the right weekend.

Klemko: The NFL forced the governor of Arizona to veto a social policy bill. They can find a venue.

Vrentas: I’m surprised it moved from New York, to be honest. It always felt like the perfect big stage to match this jump off a cliff these guys are taking. You know what else I’m surprised by? That they scheduled the draft the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby. I guess the draft will be in rounds six and seven at that point, but why compete with the same Saturday afternoon window?

King: Good point.

Vrentas: They should have been doing it in L.A.

King: At the Kodak [editor’s note: now Dolby] Theatre! Julianne Moore in February, Jameis Winston in April!

WHO IS LYNDEN TRAIL? Andy Staples on the draft’s biggest mystery man

Topic 7: Pretty huge free-agency class coming up.

The Cowboys’ decision on Murray could affect where Adrian Peterson ends up. (Tom Lynn for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) The Cowboys’ decision on Murray could affect where Adrian Peterson ends up. (Tom Lynn for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

Klemko: Which of these guys do you think gets re-signed? Jason Pierre-Paul. Randall Cobb. Justin Houston. DeMarco Murray. Julius Thomas.

King: Free agency, to me, isn’t a clear picture until we see what happens with guys like Suh and Pierre-Paul. I say both end up back with their teams. Justin Houston, tagged. Cobb, back with the Packers, somehow. Julius Thomas lands somewhere. Don’t know where. Peyton Manning will not be pleased. DeMarco Murray, for some reason, I see signing elsewhere. I can’t see Dallas making him a $9-million-a-year player with significant guarantees.

Klemko: Opening the door for Adrian Peterson in Dallas.

King: Yes. Adrian the free agent would be best for the Murray-less Cowboys, or Arizona. The Cardinals would love Peterson.

Klemko: Back to Suh. If he is unwilling to settle for less than J.J. Watt money, I don’t think it can work out in Detroit. What a talent hitting the market. Would he be the best DL free agent since Reggie White?

King: Yes, but I think Detroit would franchise him rather than letting him walk.

Vrentas: For a cool $27 million I think.

Klemko: Via Dave Birkett, who covers the Lions: “If he’s franchised, Suh will make about $26.9 million next year and count the same amount against the cap, with another $9.7 million in ‘dead money’ that’s already been paid out also on the Lions’ cap. That’s $36.6 million total, or roughly 25 percent of next year’s projected $143 million cap.”

King: That’s a whoa.

Vrentas: That’s a no.

Klemko: People love rhymes.

Vrentas: Except for you. You hate poems.

King: Klemko loves haikus. Let’s all do an NFL haiku.

Klemko: I honestly don’t know the rules of a haiku.

King: Five-seven-five … five syllables, then seven, then five on the last line. Like:

Yo Adrian! You out?

Jerry Jones awaits freedom.

Just wait till April.

Vrentas: Your first line’s six syllables. Here’s mine:

Indy sure was cold

But Jameis Winston warmed

Many a GM.

King: Your second line’s six syllables.

Klemko: “Mine:

Haikus make the best

Sportswriters sound like dummies

So lets just stop it

Vrentas: WOW.

Last topic: Best nugget you took away from the combine.

Vrentas: Said one coach: “There are 300 million people in the U.S., but we can’t find 32 NFL quarterbacks? As coaches, we’re messing it up.”

Klemko: Everybody hates the Patriots. Not just media … coaches, players and agents too. So many people were delighted to see Belichick slammed on Deflategate, no matter how silly it was/remains.

King: Probably that the Bucs are leaning toward thinking Winston’s problems are due to immaturity, and not because he’s a bad guy. That leads me to believe he’s the leader in the clubhouse with the draft two months away.

* * *

We’d like to hear from you about these roundtables. Let us know if you want more, and in what format you’d like to see them continue. Hit us at talkback@TheMMQB.com. Thanks, as always, for reading.


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