Combine’s in the books, free agency kicks off in nine days …
1. It’s getting tougher to find teams with genuine interest in Antonio Brown, which is staggering considering his ability and what’s left on his contract (three non-guaranteed years, $39 million). Brown’s recentmedia tour hasn’t helped either, nor has the perception some teams have that he’s going to want to overhaul what’s left of his current deal. Maybe he’s trying to get Pittsburgh to cut him. I don’t think it’ll work. His March 17 roster bonus looms over this, but it’s only $2.5 million. I think the Steelers would view that as a small cost to draw a line in the sand from a precedent standpoint and/or hold out for better value in a trade.
2. Four edge rushers (Kansas City’s Dee Ford, Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle’s Frank Clark, Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence), and an athletic 3-technique (Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett) have been franchise tagged ahead of the deadline. And that means what looked like a game-changing free-agent class of defensive linemen has had its wings clipped. But that doesn’t mean teams that were waiting to address their pass-rushing needs, with cap space ready, are going to back off a significantly weakened group. That should be fantastic for remaining free agents Trey Flowers, Za’Darius Smith, Dante Fowler, Ziggy Ansah and Preston Smith, and maybe Sheldon Richardson too.
3. Lawrence and the Cowboys aren’t close to a deal, and I’d expect this one to be pretty bumpy over the next four months. Last year, Lawrence signed his tender right away. This year, he has no plans to sign his $20.572 million tender. Would he miss games? History says no. But he doesn’t need be there between now and the July 15 deadline to sign a long-term deal, and it wouldn’t cost him a cent to continue playing stay-away right up to Week 1. So we’ll see where it goes. Lawrence’s isn’t the only contract situation Dallas must sort out. QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper, LB Jaylon Smith and CB Byron Jones are all headed into contract years (though the Cowboys have the fifth-year option on Elliott for 2020).
4. The Vikings aren’t tagging Anthony Barr, I’m told, for the same reason that the Ravens aren’t tagging CJ Mosley—the linebacker number ($15.209 million) is based largely on edge rusher figures, not off-ball ’backer money. Both teams want to keep their guys, but each should have significant action on the market (with a likelihood of deals exceeding $12 million per).
5. I asked a few quarterbacks coaches who they thought threw it well on Saturday, and one name came up every time: Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. Coming into last season—and remember, at that point, neither Kyler Murray nor Dwayne Haskins had been full-time starters—some evaluators believed Stidham had the best arm talent in the class. And there’s an understanding out there that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s scheme wasn’t the best fit for him. So he’s a name to keep on your radar going forward.
6. We mentioned some guys who killed it in interviews in The MMQB, and one thing that I noticed, as more texts rolled in today, was how often Clemson players were coming up. Everyone who interviewed DT Christian Wilkins seemed to love him. And DE Clelin Ferrell really helped himself in that setting as well.
7. Another guy who did well in that regard: Vanderbilt CB Joejuan Williams. Which should come as a surprise, based on where he went to school.
8. As for Monday’s workouts, Washington CB Byron Murphy had a very, very strong Monday. Both he and teammate Tyler Rapp have become darlings of the scouting community over the last year. Others who helped themselves during the last day of workouts: Auburn CB Jamel Dean, Central Michigan CB Sean Bunting, USC S Marvell Tell and Temple CB Rock Ya-Sin. And Mississippi State S Johnathan Abram held served as the class’s best at his position.
9. Georgia’s Deandre Baker will be interesting. He’s tough, plays physical and has a lot of good tape as a No. 1 corner at the highest level of college football, but concerns over his ceiling won’t be quieted by his 40 times in Indy (4.53, 4.63). As was expected, he did interview well.
10. And we’ll wrap the combine by giving you a leftover from my conversation with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. I told him on Saturday that I heard Dwayne Haskins was interviewing well, and putting his knowledge of the game on display. Day’s response: “Really proud of that, honestly. We pride ourselves in being the best coached quarterback room in America in the pro-passing game we put together.” Day’s right up there now with Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, as the top quarterbacks guys in college football. It’s no wonder both landed big-time recruits (Day got Justin Fields, Riley got Spencer Rattler) at the position as Murray and Haskins wrapped up big years. And their success, I’d say, won’t do anything to slow the trend we’ve seen in the NFL and across the sport to hire coaches with quarterbacking background to lead teams.
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