INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Mayock’s days at the NFL Scouting Combine have always been long and challenging. What’s different now—with his time as NFL Network’s draft czar in the rear view and the Raiders’ future in front of him—can go a long way to explain just how significantly the rest of his familiar world here in Indianapolis has changed.
That came together for me mid-afternoon on Wednesday as we discussed an old message that his friend Scott Pioli used to deliver to the Patriots’ scouts.
We’re not collecting talent, we’re building a team.
In a certain way, with this life shift, Mayock is going from one job that asked the former of him, to another he knows is going to constantly demand the latter.
“I think when you’re coming at it from a losing organization, and the Raiders have been to one playoff in 16 years, it’s ‘What are we trying to do?’ Mayock says from his downtown Indianapolis hotel. “Are we trying to collect talent? Absolutely. And that part of the job is very comfortable to me. ... When I was at NFL Network, I’d get up at 5:30 in the morning, and I could walk downstairs in my gym shorts and throw down a cup of coffee and put the tape on at 6 a.m. and go to work.
“I was my own boss. And all I had to do was take notes on every prospect I watched and rank them. So you’re 100% right that the challenge comes from, ‘What’s the next step? How do you both accumulate talent and develop culture?’ And I think that’s the hard part of it. And I think we have to be cognizant of that every single day. And [Raiders coach] Jon [Gruden] and I talk about it a lot.”
Mayock still has yet to pull the trigger on his first draft pick, or sign his first unrestricted free agent. But that vision for the Oakland Raiders in the Gruden 2.0 Era is very much coming together. And that vision will bring color to the team as the two guys who were on your TVs 14 months ago try to lead a resurrection.
In this week’s GamePlan, we’re going to answer questions on the Cowboys’ traffic jam of contract situations, where the Steelers won’t trade Antonio Brown, how the draft quarterbacks might fit Pat Shurmur’s Giants and where Nick Foles might land in a couple weeks.
But we’re starting with Mayock, here for the combine as usual but in a different spot, and he breaks the challenge he now faces—to pick players and fit them together—into two pieces.
The first piece has been learning Gruden’s scheme on offense, Paul Guenther’s scheme on defense and Rich Bisaccia’s vision on special teams. Mayock has worked through it and, two months later, believes he’s got a solid base in what he’s looking for at every position. From there, it doesn’t get easier.
“I think the second, more difficult piece of the puzzle is what makes a kid tick,” Mayock says. “What are you looking for in an Oakland Raider? And I think the teams that consistently win are most consistent in that philosophy. Pick a team. You look at the way the Ravens have drafted over the years with Ozzie [Newsome], or Kevin Colbert and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“You look at that, you go, ‘OK, those guys know what a Pittsburgh Steeler looks like and smells like. Doesn't matter who the head coach is, the type of kid is very similar.’ And from draft to draft to draft, they get their kind of kid. And I think that’s what [Gruden] and I are striving for. He’s probably a little bit more aggressive and I’m probably more conservative. And I think we’re going to end up somewhere in the middle.”
So where the first part has been developed, through positional parameters for height, weight and speed—“guys that can run”—as well as an acknowledgement of the NFL becoming a passing league in how they build along the lines of scrimmage, the second part is still a work in progress. But they’re getting there with it.
“We both want a guy that loves ball, that has a passion for football like we do, that has talent, that comes to do the work, that’s tough, that plays through injury, that’s durable,” Mayock says. “At the end of the day, [a guy that] absolutely frickin’ loves football. And every team says similar things. But I think the bottom line again is being consistent in your philosophy and making sure you implement it.”
And this week will be big in that regard—with the interview schedule stacked over four nights, at a point in the day when, last year, Mayock may have been cutting into a steak, rather cutting through a prospect’s personality.
So what else was on Mayock’s mind Wednesday? Here’s more from our wide-ranging conversation …
• Ever since Gruden arrived 14 months ago, questions have lingered about QB Derek Carr’s future. Mayock wouldn’t slam the door shut on those, but tried to come as close as he could without painting himself in a corner. Is there any way he’d take a quarterback with one of his three first-round picks? He answered, “Derek is 27 [years old]—he’ll be 28 in March—and we think he's a franchise quarterback. The other piece of that is a GM and a coach have to look to upgrade the roster at every single position. So do I think there are a whole lot of quarterbacks out there better than Derek? No. But is it my job to always check, and look? Yeah.”
• As for the rest of the roster, it’s fair to say that Mayock’s being realistic on where the team is.
“We were 4–12,” he says. “So I like the fact that we’ve got a franchise quarterback to build around. I think we’ve got some good young talent on the defensive line that need to take a big step in Year 2. I think we’ve got some pretty good offensive linemen and we need to get more depth there. But you can look at our team and say we need team speed and we need to be more competitive everywhere.” They have 10 picks, those three first-rounders (and four of the Top 35 picks) among them, to make that happen.
• The best piece of advice Mayock got to prep for the job? It came from the same guy who gave him the best advice before he got into TV—his dad, and high school coach, Mike Sr.
“Doesn’t interfere a lot but somebody who I respect immensely,” Mike Jr. says. “And he told me when I got into television years ago, in the evaluation role in television, he basically said, ‘Look, if you ever talk about a player or a coach without having watched film first, I’ll disown you.’ And heading into that profession, I thought it was great advice. And then heading into the Raiders job, again, he’s a man of very few words, he kind of just said, ‘Listen, if you make a mistake, make it yours and trust your gut. You’ve been doing this since you were eight years old. You've been watching film since you were eight. So don’t get caught up in all the other stuff just understand all you're doing is the same thing you've always done.’ Pick good players, pick good people. So I think about that every day.”
• Often you hear new GMs stunned by the kinds of things that cross their desks—maybe it’s making sure the grass gets cut or the kicking tees get ordered. Mayock hasn’t seen much of that, and he credits the organization with taking care of a lot of the logistical stuff that can bog down a new executives early days.
“The staff has been great, we’ve minimalized what I’ve had to do there,” Mayock says. “And the reality is that the focus has to be free agency and the draft, trying to knock them out of the park. And then let’s get to May, the month of May, exhale a little bit and figure out as an organization, especially from my part of the building, what do we need to do consistently to get better.”
• As for coming up in a non-traditional way, Mayock thinks his 14 years at NFL Network (and eight years of TV work before that) can be an asset in this new world of his.
“I had a couple of teams try to hire me in the past and one of the things they liked was the fact that I was scheme diverse, and I effectively had to be the GM for all 32 teams and understand what a 3–4 team looked for, what a 4–3 team looked for, what different offenses looked for in their ‘x’ receiver or their ‘z’ receiver,” he says. “So from a schematic standpoint, I think I've evaluated and kind of mentally drafted for all 32 different teams. And I think I have a pretty good feel for what a lot of the GM’s footprints are, in their past history in the draft. And I think I have a pretty good feel for draft day and what the trade chart looks like and what teams want to come up and down and move around the board. So I think, even though I didn't come up through the traditional way, I think the way I came up can be very effective.”
And then you get to what’s really important to Mayock—that the job is all he’d hoped it would be, when he spent all those years considering what running a team would be like.
“The interaction with [Gruden], his coaching staff, and our scouting staff has been the most energizing thing I’ve ever done in football,” Mayock says. “It’s just been phenomenal. … The best part for me is I’ve got skin in the game again. If you were a player or you were a coach, Sunday matters. Or Saturday matters, if it’s college. If you’re a commentator, you can study your ass off for a Thursday night game, but after the game’s over, you go have a beer and hopefully you did a great job.
“There’s not that emotional swing of winning or losing and that's what I missed the most. … What we’re driving for is obviously to accumulate talent through the free agency, through the draft, and what I can’t wait for is when we get into the regular season. I think that’s when it’ll hit me a little bit that it’s all real.”
And, as Mayock explains, a dream come true for that eight-year-old kid in Philly who’d follow his dad to football practice.
On to your mail …
From Josh (@Josh84752816): With three of the top four Cowboys free agents being offensive players, who on the defensive side is going to be casualties in the next three years?
Josh, let’s start with the guys that are staying. I don’t think Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott are going anywhere, and my feeling is there’s a decent chance both are locked up long-term by opening day. DeMarcus Lawrence, either on the tag or a long-term deal, will be Cowboy in 2019, and I think the team would like to keep him around for longer than that. And Amari Cooper’s another guy likely in Dallas for the long haul.
If the Joneses get deals for all four of those players finished, that’s four very significant contracts—all likely would average more than $15 million per. Can the Cowboys get linebacker Jaylon Smith and corner Byron Jones signed long-term given all of that? It’ll be a challenge, particularly with Leighton Vander Esch and Chidobe Awuzie to be taken care of in a year or two.
Make no mistake, this is a good issue to have. It’s a reflection of the job Will McClay and his staff have done, in conjunction with the Joneses, in putting the roster together. But it’s an issue nonetheless.
From Mike (@ruzic_michael): Any chance the Browns try to trade for Antonio Brown?
Sure, they can try, but I’d be stunned if it happened. I’ve been told emphatically, and more than once, that the Steelers won’t trade Brown to the Ravens, Browns, Bengals or Patriots, which makes sense.
From Kyle (@suavestish): Better fit SCHEME WISE for the Giants: Haskins or Murray?
On paper, it’s unquestionably the cerebral Dwayne Haskins. Shurmur’s history favors big, strong pocket-passers who can push the ball down the field, and the Giants have always had more stringent size parameters than most teams. Bill Parcells used to say, “If you keep making exceptions, you’ll wind up with a team full of them.”
But it’s not like the coach hasn’t bent in the past. He coached a Case Keenum-led offense to the NFC Championship Game two years, so never say never.
From CJ Bagby (@cjbcool): The depths of this Randy Gregory situation. What punishment would Robert Kraft be looking at? Game of tag—who’s it?
1. I wrote about why Gregory would fall in the draft four years ago when he came out of Nebraska, and I think a lot of that still applies. The root of this isn’t a drug issue. It’s a mental health issue. So it’s complicated, and worth wishing Gregory the best as he fights his demons.
2. I think a fine ($500,000 is the max) and suspension (Jim Irsay got six games for DWI in 2014) is the likeliest outcome for Kraft’s charges of soliciting prostitution, which would come with the possible collateral damage of the Patriots’ owner missing the Week 1 raising of a sixth championship banner in Foxboro.
3. My guess is Dallas DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Seattle DE Frank Clark, Chiefs OLB Dee Ford, Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney, and Bucs LT Donovan Smith all get tagged. I’m 50/50 on Atlanta DT Grady Jarrett. And then maybe a kicker or two on top of already-tagged Niner Robbie Gould.
From Aree (@Aree57592942): Do you see the Vikings bringing in a third WR in the draft or free agency? Or is it not a big concern for them?
Aree, I think their pressing needs elsewhere, cap complications and the lingering Anthony Barr situation will keep Minnesota very quiet in free agency this year. And in the draft, you need to look at the strength of the class—there are defensive studs all over the first round and, along those lines, the Vikings might want to add a piece to replace Barr’s production with the 18th pick.
From there, the second and third rounds will be rich in offensive linemen and tight ends. Minnesota badly needs the former, and could use the latter to pair with Kyle Rudolph now, and replace him down the line. So could they add a receiver? Sure, if things fall a certain way that seem likely right now.
From Mark T. (@tymark10): Where will Nick Foles play next season?
Mark, this still has Jacksonville written all over it to me. The Jaguars picking up Calais Campbell’s option and restructuring, rather than cutting, Marcel Dareus are clear signals that Tom Coughlin, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone aren’t turning the page on the core that got them to the AFC title two Januarys ago.
All they need is a quarterback who can win now. And Foles sure showed he could do that working with the Jags’ new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, in Philadelphia in 2017. What’s more, word around the campfire is that Jacksonville didn’t work a trade out for him over the last couple weeks because the brass felt like no one else was that serious about trading for him with the franchise tag attached.
Maybe the Redskins or someone else muck this one up, but it sure seems like Foles is headed for North Florida.
From Matt Gibson (@gibby79): If there is one missing piece to make the Colts into a serious contender next season, what is it?Follow-up: do they acquire it via trade, free agency, or the draft?
Indianapolis could use a top-flight receiver and a No. 1 corner to supplement what GM Chris Ballard has already built in short order, but I’d put a high-end pass-rusher at the top of the list. Maybe it’s a free agent, like Dante Fowler. Maybe it’s someone in a draft class rich in them. Either way, the Colts are lousy with resources (three picks in the top 59, over $100 million in cap space) to find themselves one.
Also, those other two positions do have young players who could emerge—former second-round pick Quincy Wilson has plenty of room to improve, while 2018 sixth-rounder Deon Cain was lighting up training camp before blowing his ACL out.
From John Dukes (@JohnDukesJokez): Would the Giants have drafted Lamar Jackson in the second round last year if the Ravens didn't draft him?
I sincerely doubt it. I don’t think the Giants were going quarterback with their two picks last year, unless something really crazy happened.
From Ellie Gaffney (@EllieGaffney): Any chance Mike Tomlin is on the hot seat losing two All-Pros like he did?
I don’t think so. Given Antonio Brown’s ups and downs, Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation and Ben Roethlisberger’s handling of the tumult, I don’t know that there are many coaches out there who’d have come out of 2018 better than Tomlin did. He didn’t have much to do with Bell’s negotiations, nor did make Brown go AWOL in Week 17, and the Steelers still finished 9-6-1.
But 2019 will be Tomlin’s 13th season in Pittsburgh (Bill Cowher was there for 15), and he has an aging quarterback, aging offensive line, and a couple aging pieces on defense. So it’s certainly fair to say that there should be a sense of urgency in Pittsburgh, given how many important pieces many not be around for all that much longer.
From Bobby Coleman (@BobbyGlobe): Do you think the Patriots will draft a QB, sign a veteran for insurance to Tom Brady that’s better than Hoyer, or both?
If Brady goes down in 2019, the Patriots are porked, which means you want his backup to be one of two things—a great resource to the greatest of all-time, or his successor. Hoyer, as Devin and Jason McCourty told us a couple of weeks ago, is a fantastic resource for not just Brady, but the whole team in Foxboro. So absent a high draft pick coming in, I’d think Hoyer will be around in the fall.
Could the Patriots draft one? Sure. I don’t know what they think of the quarterback class. But if they’re like most teams, they see this as a little bit of off year at the position. And with 12 draft picks, and a need for young talent on the roster, it seems to me this would be a good time to replenish what’s around the quarterback, rather than finding his eventual replacement.
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