INDIANAPOLIS — Combine week is winding down, and this year it might as well have been Kirk Cousins week.
From the steakhouses to the lobby bars to the hallways connecting the convention center to Lucas Oil Stadium, everyone was asking one question—Where is Cousins going to land? The combine, of course, is where much of the groundwork is laid annually ahead of free agency, and in a year that could bring unprecedented quarterback movement, very little can settled before Cousins makes his call.
And you can look at the money in the Cousins sweepstakes a couple different ways.
On one hand, the soon-to-be-former Redskins quarterback hasn’t been shy in explaining over the last month or so that winning and being in the right situation will be a factor in whatever decision he makes on where to spend the next few years of his life. And yes, he’s made $43.9 million over the last two seasons in playing out a pair of franchise tags.
On the other, after the Redskins chose to date but not marry him over his three years as starter, Cousins does now want commitment. The best way to show commitment? That’s right, you back up the Brinks truck, and make sure to guarantee a lot of the bills coming out of it.
And this isn’t just about Cousins. Where is Minnesota’s Case Keenum going? How about AJ McCarron? And while we’re there, how do things play out for Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater? So much of that will ride on where the biggest domino falls, and the impact of it dropping will be felt well after all those guys have picked their spots.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger could all have new deals this spring, and each will be affected by the terms and structure of Cousins’s deal, and Cousins’s landing spot will (obviously) be a factor in how the Broncos (picking 5th), Jets (6th) and Cardinals (15th) approach the draft.
So it’ll be interesting to see what Cousins gets, and what he prioritizes in the contract—it could be a shorter term (he did well with those one-year deals) with a higher percentage of guaranteed money. As always, the money does matter, even if the raw amount in the contract isn’t the first priority in Cousins finding a new home.
What other buzz was out there on the seventh-year slinger in Indy? We came away with a few things.
• The Jets, Cardinals, Broncos and Vikings all have detailed plans on they plan to build around Cousins and make him the face of their franchise. We’ve mentioned in a couple GamePlan columns how, after a messy couple years in Washington, he wants to find a team that he can make his own and one that has deep belief in him. It’s a credit to the aforementioned teams that they have done their homework and are ready to give him that love.
• The idea of the No. 1 free agent taking visits seems crazy, because most big-ticket guys sign right as the new-league-year window opens. This might—I emphasize might—be different. Cousins would like to meet his new coach and coordinator before making a final call. Is that realistic? We’ll see. But it is worth noting that his agent, Mike McCartney, had QB Josh McCown, WR Mohamed Sanu and G TJ Lang take visits, and take longer to sign, in recent years.
• The buzz is that the Broncos will be in heavy on Keenum if they strike out on Cousins. Same goes for the Vikings with McCarron. In both cases, the team kicked around the idea of trading for the quarterback in question over the last couple of years, so there’s history there. Which means each player may be compelled to slow-play his market, if Cousins takes his time.
• In the case of McCarron and Keenum, it’s pretty easy to see a scenario where both cash in and get a chance to start in 2018, with the caveat that the team signing them could go ahead and draft a quarterback six weeks after the ink dries. It’s how the Eagles built their quarterback room in 2016, and how the Bears did it last year—a sort of new model of “over-investment” in the position.
And we didn’t even mention Drew Brees, who’s also up but is expected to stay where he is, here yet.
Given all of that, it almost goes without saying that there’s a wild couple months ahead at the sport’s most important position, which is why plenty of people were talking about it here. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of people talking about it here.
And now, a few things from Sunday at the combine, with the number of NFL people in town dwindling as we approach the finish line …
How can you not love UCF LB Shaquem Griffin? His left hand was amputated at age 4, a result of amniotic band syndrome, and that’s done little to hold him back. A star linebacker at UCF, Griffin somehow churned out 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench with a prosthetic on Saturday, then blazed a scary-fast 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. One team I talked to said this absolutely helps him, and he's now a good bet to go by the fourth round. At the very least, Griffin can be a solid special-teamer right away, which would give him a chance to grow from there.
Want to learn more about Shaquem Griffin? Check out Andy Staples’s profile of the inspirational UCF linebacker on SI TV.
Biggest surprise of the weekend? According to a couple guys evaluating the workouts, it was the shakiness of Josh Rosen’s throwing session on Saturday. The UCLA product was up and down—“The ball just kept coming off his hand bad,” said one NFC QB coach—and will have a chance to atone at his pro day later in the month. As for the impression he left in interviews, important because of the personality questions he’s facing, that depends on who you talk to. The aforementioned QB coach said Rosen spoke well in their meeting, but he left leary that he’d been conned. Conversely, an AFC scouting director told me that he through Rosen came off as “intelligent” and “worldly, which you don’t always see.” So Rosen isn’t for everyone, but some teams really, really like him.
The best throwing session? While Wyoming’s Josh Allen was impressive, and got everyone talking on Saturday, it was Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield who was most consistent, according to the guys I’ve talked to that were evaluating the work. Mayfield looked natural, and didn’t miss any throws, they said.
We went on the record last week in calling Penn State RB Saquon Barkley and Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson the two best players in this class. That said, there might not be much drop-off before you get to Bradley Chubb, who’s looking more and more like a lock to go in the Top 5 picks. At 6' 4" and 269 pounds, Chubb ran a 4.65 40-yard dash (1/100th of a second slower than Myles Garrett last year), did 24 reps on the bench and posted a 36-inch vertical. Because of the value of his position versus that of Barkley and Nelson, Chubb’s very much in the mix to be the first non-QB taken.
Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick came as advertised in addressing the media on Sunday, showing his maturity and preparedness for the pro game in relaying how he’d reached out to Cardinals star Patrick Peterson while he was working out in Arizona to try and learn more about how a Pro Bowler operates. Fitzpatrick—a swiss army knife of a DB molded like Philadelphia’s Malcolm Jenkins—is the kind of guy teams project to be captains down the line.
Tomorrow: The week wraps up with the fourth and final day of on-field workouts, with the defensive backs taking center stage. And there will be a few interesting prospects to watch. Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, considered the class’ top corner, should post an impressive 40 time – and might get beat out in that event by LSU corner/track star Donte Jackson, who was considered the fastest man in college football last year. And as for overall freakishness, keep an eye on the numbers put up by Florida State’s supersized safety, Derwin James.
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