INDIANAPOLIS—Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Day 1 of the 2015 NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium, an event that consumes a little more oxygen every year...
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• I’m not passing this off as scientific fact, but there seems to be an unprecedented dose of the waiting game being played as the league’s annual scouting combine opens. Everywhere you looked here on Wednesday, there was a coach or a general manager taking to the podium in the media work room to explain how that big unanswered question looming over their organization is still just hanging there, waiting for some momentous resolution.
If it wasn’t for Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals renewing their vows to each other via a much-needed contract restructuring on Wednesday morning, there might not have been anything definitive to hang our hats on as the unofficial start of the NFL’s 2015 season kicked off.
Has there ever been more headline names with significant unknowns surrounding their very much up-in-the-air status in any mid-February of recent vintage? To wit:
-- The Broncos and Peyton Manning continued to do their slow dance, and while their relationship certainly looks like it’s headed for Year 4 in the Rockies, nothing is done quite yet, as new Denver head coach Gary Kubiak acknowledged.
-- Lions general manager Martin Mayhew somewhat surprisingly talked optimistically about re-signing Ndamukong Suh and keeping him as the heart of their defense, but that’s a huge stay-tuned topic to monitor.
-- The Bears’ new management team of coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace gave zero hints of where they stand on the question of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall’s futures in Chicago. They’re apparently still in that getting-to-know-each-other stage.
-- Vikings general manager Rick Spielman did his best to make it clear Minnesota wants Adrian Peterson back. But at what price, and will the Vikings’ interest in retaining the veteran running back be reciprocated once he’s re-instated by the league?
-- Browns head coach Mike Pettine talking openly about the complete question mark that Cleveland’s starting quarterback position remains, with Johnny Manziel getting treatment for personal issues and last season’s No. 1, Brian Hoyer, about to enter free agency next month.
-- Rams general manager Les Snead didn't quite deny that injury-plagued quarterback Sam Bradford has been granted permission to seek a trade this offseason, but then quickly added that “deleting him [from the roster] is not the answer." No word yet on whether the necessary contract restructuring for Bradford is anywhere near inevitable, but it doesn’t sound like it.
-- And the on-the-clock Bucs said they have established a "favorite" for the draft’s No. 1 overall pick, but hastily admitting that they see no reason to tip their hand more than two months before the card is due to be turned in. So the Marcus Mariota versus Jameis Winston debate will certainly rage on, just as we all expected.
• Of all those still-unsettled issues, nothing seems more unlikely to lead to a quick resolution than Suh’s big-dollar situation in Detroit, even though Mayhew seemed to express an overly sunny version of reality on Wednesday afternoon, when meeting with the assembled throngs of media.
"It’s not done," Mayhew said of a new long-term contract with Suh, the Lions’ All-Pro defensive tackle. "Still working on it. Still very optimistic that we’ll be able to get it done. I don’t have a timetable as to when it’s going to happen, but I feel good about it."
Mayhew said the "essential elements" of a deal were in place because Suh likes his teammates, his coaches and the scheme he’s playing in for Detroit. But he also is thought to like the sound of at least $18 million per year in salary, and something tells me that will be the defining detail in the equation.
According to Mayhew, no final determination has been made regarding whether the Lions will franchise Suh at a staggering $26.9 million salary in 2015, but that remains mind-boggling to fathom. And here’s the key indication of where things really stand between Detroit and Suh: Contract talks have yet to intensify between his agent, Jimmy Sexton, and the Lions, and the two sides are scheduled to meet here this week. When the silence stops being deafening from Suh’s camp, with some optimism expressed by both sides, then you’ll know the chances of a long-term deal being struck has increased.
“We’ve got a lot of things he’s looking for here in Detroit, and obviously we want him signed," Mayhew said. “We’re prepared for what it takes financially to get him signed...... and obviously it’ll be a setback not to have him on the football field."
• Compared to how he could have played it, Bucs general manager Jason Licht didn’t get too coy on the quarterback question Tampa Bay faces with the No. 1 draft pick. He admitted the Bucs are likely to take the No. 1 pick rather than seek to trade it, and he said they were leaning toward selecting a quarterback.
"If you have a player who is a franchise-level player, especially at quarterback, it’s tough to pass on them," Licht said.
The Bucs have time, so they’ll wisely take their time in making a decision between Winston and Mariota, even if they know who they’re favoring at this point. After all, two months can be a lifetime in today’s NFL.
"We have over two months yet, so it would be a little ridiculous to come out and say, ‘Well, this is who we want right now,’" Licht said. "We want to use every avenue that we have, every resource that we have in the next two months to make the final decision. But it would be an insult to sit here after two rounds of draft meetings and watching every play, Lovie and I, or Jon Robinson, our personnel director, Mike Biehl, our college scouting [director], all of our scouts, to watch every play and say that, ‘Okay, we have two guys tied at the top.’ We have a favorite, but we want to let the process play out.”
• Of course Washington head coach Jay Gruden came out Wednesday and declared Robert Griffin III his starting quarterback going into the 2015 season. What else was he supposed to do, use the combine podium to once again demote the player the franchise gave up a windfall for in that blockbuster trade with St. Louis in '12? Nothing Gruden says about Griffin is really written in stone any way, not after benching him late last season in favor of Colt McCoy.
And just to underline that what he said Wednesday was anything but a coronation, Gruden added the following to his pronouncement of Griffin as his starter:
"It’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person," Gruden said. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.
"I think we’ll have some things drawn out for him—specific things that he can do to get better from the quarterback position, mechanics-wise, throwing-wise, drop-wise. All of that stuff that he can work on."
Sounds like basically the same Gruden-Griffin dynamic as we saw in Washington last year.
• To hear 49ers general manager Trent Baalke tell it Wednesday morning, the pivotal chicken or the egg question in San Francisco can be answered thusly: "Jim’s moved on, we’ve moved on."
Except that ex-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh last week told the San Jose Mercury News that his departure from San Francisco was far from the mutual parting it was portrayed as. Baalke went one step further than that, repeatedly putting out the “Jim moved on, we’ve moved on" line, as if Harbaugh jumped before he was pushed. Logic tells us Harbaugh was pushed before he jumped.
Baalke even kept lauding the high-profile job Harbaugh landed with the University of Michigan, as if that makes the coach’s messy divorce with the 49ers a moot point. That’s actually more of a reason to perhaps regret losing Harbaugh, that he was so in demand after leaving San Francisco, but that point seemingly escaped Baalke.
"To sit here and rehash the whys [of what happened], I think I’ve stated exactly why, and Jim’s moved on," Baalke said, in classic nothing-to-see-here, move-along style. "He’s got a heck of a job. Being the head coach of the University of Michigan is a heck of a football job—and I know that’s something he always wanted to do—and we moved on as well."
• What would the combine be like without the Cleveland Browns in the market for a starting quarterback? The Browns have spent first-round picks on Brandon Weeden (2012) and Johnny Manziel ('14) in two of the past three drafts, but does anyone want to go for three out of four? Yes, we see that hand, Mike Pettine.
The Browns head coach said Wednesday that with Brian Hoyer a potential free agent in March and Manziel in treatment for his personal problems, Cleveland has to approach the offseason as if another starting quarterback is the Browns’ top priority. Groundhog Day, anyone?
"That's probably accurate just because you look at the uncertainty of where [Manziel] is," Pettine said. "Just given the small sample size, we still don't know based on what he was going through whether or not he is that answer. There's too much unknown. I'd obviously be scared if we had a game this weekend. It's a position we're well aware of where our depth chart is. We'll look to address it here in the coming months."
Be afraid, Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. Be very afraid. You don’t want to look up on draft night and be wearing brown and orange. Historically speaking, it’s just not a good look for any quarterback.