The finish line is in sight. In under 100 hours, the Cardinals will take Kyler Murray with the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Or they won’t. And that’s sort of the story for each of the four quarterbacks atop this year’s class—there’s a wide range of outcomes that seem possible for each of them three days from now.
The rest of the 2019 class? Many of them are in a similar situation.
After seven months of working the phones, learning about this particular crop of prospects and trying to put the pieces together, my feeling is that there are four or five players that stand out above the crowd. I expect all five (one’s a wild card) to go within the top 10 picks, and I can separate them into tiers.
TIER 1: Ohio State DE Nick Bosa and Alabama DT Quinnen Williams
TIER 2: Kentucky LB Josh Allen and LSU LB Devin White
TIER 2 WILD CARD: Houston DT Ed Oliver
I call Oliver a wild card, because he’s not for everyone. White could be considered one too, because of the diminished value of off-ball linebackers. But I think if you got a look at most teams’ boards, you’d consistently see these five names near the top.
After that, it’s absolutely anyone’s guess who goes where.
“The meat of this draft is Day 2 and Day 3,” one AFC exec said on Sunday night. “The second-to-fourth round is where it’s at. Once we get by that first level, with the elite guys, to me, it’s all the same.”
“After Bosa and Allen and Quinnen Williams,” one AFC GM said, “it’s a legit crapshoot.”
So here’s what that means: Most teams I’ve talked to over the last two weeks expect that in the 12-16 range, they’ll be looking at guys with second-round grades. There are that few real blue-chip players in the class. The flip side? Well, the flip side is that those second-round grades could stretch well into the third round, and the expectation is that there are going to finds well into Day 3.
That adds up to a lot of good, similarly graded players, and a very unpredictable first round. Maybe that sounds like a cop-out ahead of my mock draft. Maybe it is. But I can’t remember a draft quite like this, where there were questions on how players were going to come off the board at so many positions (corner, receiver, and every offensive line spot, to name a few) so close to draft day.
And, of course, that includes the most important position of all.
In this week’s MMQB, we’re heavy on draft info, but we’ll also…
• Give you one last look at how the Russell Wilson deal got done, and why it made sense for the Seahawks’ quarterback.
• Take another look at the process that the schedule-makers have gone through the last three months, with an explanation on how it all starts.
• Identify a potential landing spot for franchise-tagged Seahawk Frank Clark.
• Delve a little more into exactly what happened with the Raiders scouts over the last few weeks, and the potential challenge the team created for itself.
• Detail a few vets who could be on the move via trade during the draft (remember, the Super Bowl champs’ left tackle, Trent Brown, was traded last year on the Friday of the draft).
And as for draft info, we’re going to go a little deeper on Murray and Montez Sweat, and why a quarter of the first round picks could be offensive linemen. And I’ll project Thursday night’s opening round in my first mock in a couple months…
We’ve established that there are a lot of moving parts with this year’s class, and I’ll also mention this: None of these are my own evaluations of players. I’m not an evaluator, but I spend a lot of time talking to guys who are, and I view following college football as much a part of my job as a baseball writer would following the minor leagues.
So here’s a stab at what’ll go down on Thursday night, and I’ll probably take one more shot at it after another few dozen phone calls ahead of my Game Plan column, which will go up the morning of the draft. Here we go…
1. ARIZONA CARDINALS
Needs: DT, OLB, OL
What I know: There’s been a lot of smoke over the last week about the Cardinals going away from Kyler Murray with the first pick. For right now, I still think they take him for two reasons. First, I do believe he’s new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s guy (and that’s not coming from Kingsbury, but people who know him). And second, I think if they weren’t going this way, the Josh Rosen situation would’ve been handled differently. It wouldn’t stun me if this pick was Quinnen Williams. But I know a bunch of NFL people who’d be floored by that.
With the first pick: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
2. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Needs: WR, S, DE
What I know: The Niners have done all the requisite work on Nick Bosa—taking him out in Columbus after his pro day, and bringing him to San Francisco for a ‘30’ visit. I also know that they have pretty extensive background on how he’ll fit coordinator Robert Salah’s defense. Remember, Nick’s older brother Joey plays for Salah’s old boss/mentor, Chargers DC Gus Bradley. The affection here for Bosa has been no secret, and he’d amp up an already formidable front.
With the second pick: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
3. NEW YORK JETS
Needs: DL, OL, WR
What I know: There’s been a drumbeat over the last week that the coaches here really like Oliver. Remember, DC Gregg Williams coached Aaron Donald with the Rams and surely he’d love a guy like Oliver. Enough to take him over Quinnen Williams? Maybe. For now…
With the third pick: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
4. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: Four years ago, I remember Scot McCloughan taking Brandon Scherff, a guard, with the fifth overall pick. That was his first pick with the Redskins. He wanted to make a statement in what he was looking for in players. And I could see Mike Mayock doing the same here, with LSU LB Devin White. The thing is, in this scenario, there’s a guy on the board who is just way too good a player to pass on.
With the fourth pick: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Needs: LB, RB, DT
What I know: This is a team that, despite its record, doesn’t feel like it’s a long way off. So drafting someone into a need spot who can play right away, and fit just what Todd Bowles wants on defense, would make a lot of sense. And word on the street is that Tampa loves White, who’d help replace the departed Kwon Alexander, and has the personality to evolve into the alpha on an NFL defense.
With the fifth pick: Devin White, LB, LSU
6. NEW YORK GIANTS
Needs: QB, DE, WR, RT
What I know: Logically, you’d say that if you like a quarterback enough to take him in the first round—essentially tying your job security to that player—then you shouldn’t get cute and wait until the second of your picks to take him. Enter the Giants, who own picks No. 6 and 17. But enough of those in the scouting community have reminded me how old-school Dave Gettleman is (best player available!) over the last week for the plunge to be taken (or not taken?) on this one. The best player, at this point, is clearly…
With the sixth pick: Josh Allen, DE/OLB, Kentucky
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Needs: OT, TE, WR
What I know: This is where most teams expect the run on the three top tackles (Jonah Williams, Jawaan Taylor, Andre Dillard) to begin. And I’d heard it would be Taylor in this spot for forever—until the last few days. It’s been pointed out to me by a couple people how, after last year’s mess, Tom Coughlin plans to emphasize culture, and how Jonah Williams, even if he’s not a tackle, best works for that. Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson wouldn’t shock me here either. And early on, there was talk the Jags could be the surprise quarterback team. But I’ve heard a lot less of that lately.
With the seventh pick: Jonah Williams, OT/OG, Alabama
8. DETROIT LIONS
Needs: TE, LB, RB
What I know: The Lions would really, really like to trade down and accumulate picks, which makes them a lot like almost everyone else. If they don’t, an edge rusher (Rashan Gary?) could be in play, and there’s even been speculation in league circles that they could be the surprise quarterback team. But I’d guess right now that, rather than drafting one in the first round, they’ll find a weapon for the guy they already have by aiming right for the middle of the fairway.
With the eighth pick: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
9. BUFFALO BILLS
Needs: OT, CB, DT
What I know: Perception holds that this would be the floor for Oliver—and there’s a way where he could get here (the Giants, Jags and Lions like bigger defensive linemen). Assuming he doesn’t make it to this point, getting young Bills QB Josh Allen help is paramount. And while they’ve been linked to D.K. Metcalf, the overwhelming consensus is that this is way, way too high for him. So go with getting Allen a bodyguard, rather than a weapon. Jonah Williams played for OC Brian Daboll at Alabama. Unfortunately for the Bills, he’s already off the board as we have this laid out.
With the ninth pick: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
10. DENVER BRONCOS
Needs: ILB, TE, C
What I know: Their connection to Drew Lock stretches all the way back to the Senior Bowl. And I’m going to say…they punt on the QBs this year. Michigan LB Devin Bush has gotten hot of late with coaches involved in the process. And word is that new Broncos coach Vic Fangio, fresh off coaching Chicago’s defense, may see a little Roquan Smith in Bush.
With the 10th pick: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
11. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Needs: ILB, QB, OL
What I know: The Bengals have been connected to Bush for as long as the Broncos have, so I think there’s a possibility he’s the pick. But he’s not there in my mock. I was tempted to give Dwayne Haskins to the Giants at 6, but he’s now dropped out of the Top 10. With Andy Dalton going into a contract year, and the franchise resetting behind new coach Zac Taylor, other teams are connecting Cincinnati to Haskins. We will too.
With the 11th pick: Dwayne Haskins, QB Ohio State
12. GREEN BAY PACKERS
Needs: TE, WR, DT
What I know: The Packers have been looking to upgrade their line, and there’s been plenty of buzz connecting them to the two Iowa tight ends. I think this is the floor for Hockenson. Since he’s gone, and even though it might be a little tricky fitting this guy in with Jimmy Graham still there…
With the 12th pick: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
13. MIAMI DOLPHINS
Needs: QB, DE, OT
What I know: The Dolphins are wide open here, and building with the long-term in mind. That said, an offensive or defensive lineman makes sense. And I’ve been told that finding a cultural fit will be a priority for new coach Brian Flores. Good thing there’s a guy who really fits that here. This is another trade down possibility, and maybe a spot where someone comes up for an offensive tackle, but we’ve got Miami making the pick…
With the 13th pick: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
14. ATLANTA FALCONS
Needs: DE, OT, DT
What I know: Wilkins has been connected here for a while, and makes some sense if Grady Jarrett is out of Atlanta after 2019. But it makes more sense to me that the Falcons would look for Vic Beasley’s replacement here (in a Bruce Irvin clone). And that’s even with the temptation I think they’ll feel to take one of the offensive linemen on the board.
With the 14th pick: Brian Burns, DE, Florida State
15. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Needs: QB, LB, WR
What I know: They’ve done all the work on all the quarterbacks, and the one I’ve heard them connected to most is gone now—that’s Haskins, who actually, believe it or not, went to high school with owner Dan Snyder’s son. I could see them moving for Haskins. I could also see them taking an edge rusher. Or doing this…
With the 15th pick: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
16. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Needs: DE, S, OT
What I know: GM Marty Hurney has been all over the offensive linemen through this draft cycle, and word is they really like NC State’s Garrett Bradbury. But he’d be a funny fit after the signing of Matt Paradis. So they fill a need here, in catching a guy who’s fallen a little bit.
With the 16th pick: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
17. NEW YORK GIANTS
Needs: QB, DE, WR, RT
What I know: If they address quarterback at No. 6, keep an eye on Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence here. If not, Daniel Jones’s name has been linked to them throughout the process—a couple scouts have told me he is Eli Manning mechanically—and I know a lot of folks who believe it’s more than just dot-connecting. The Giants have been to North Carolina to see Jones, and brought him up for a visit. Too easy? Probably.
With the 17th pick: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
18. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Needs: OT, OG, DT
What I know: I really think Mike Zimmer would love to see the Vikings tap into the defensive talent available in this draft here, and address the offensive line later. I just think, based on the way this seems to be going, they won’t be able to afford to wait to take one. And there’s one here who would work well for them.
With the 18th pick: Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College
19. TENNESSEE TITANS
Needs: OLB, DT, S
What I know: Based on the presence of coach Mike Vrabel at a lot of edge player workouts, and the team’s needs, there’s an assumption that this will be some sort of player for a defensive front that’s losing Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. So let’s go with that, and a guy who fits Vrabel (even if the Kevin Dodd pick of 2016 might give GM Jon Robinson a little pause on taking this guy)…
With the 19th pick: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
20. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Needs: CB, LB, TE
What I know: The chance of White or Bush falling here is slim, which puts the team’s long-time corner need back on the forefront. Among the top guys, there are some character concerns on LSU’s Greedy Williams and Georgia’s Deandre Baker, and some questions about the athleticism of Washington’s Byron Murphy and Vandy’s Joejuan Williams. Which leaves a very interesting corner prospect as the cleanest one, in a year in which the Steelers could use a safe play.
With the 20th pick: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
21. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Needs: DE, DT, FS
What I know: The potential trade of Frank Clark would push a need to re-stock the defensive line, and there’s opportunity here for GM John Schneider to roll the dice on a couple guys who are seen as risky. He’s never been shy about doing that, so I’ll see him swinging for the fences on this one.
With the 21st pick: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
22. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Needs: OLB, ILB, WR
What I know: There’s been some buzz on Metcalf here. And the Ravens have needs on defense. But more than anything, I’ve heard they’re going to continue to build up the run game around Lamar Jackson, even after spending on Mark Ingram. So I wouldn’t rule out Josh Jacobs here. Or a big, nasty offensive lineman.
With the 22nd pick: Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma
23. HOUSTON TEXANS
Needs: OT, TE, CB
What I know: They’ve done a ton of research on the offensive tackles, and I could see them trading up to get in position to take one of the top three guys, or trading down to position themselves for Alabama State’s Tytus Young or Ole Miss’s Greg Little. In this case, because we’re not projecting trades, I’ll have them going with a versatile piece for the line, with the hope they can shore up the tackle spot later. I am tempted to give them a corner here, but the pick is…
With the 23rd pick: Eric McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M
24. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: Again, I think Mayock, just based on what I know about him, will go for a certain type of player. And I think there’s a running back out there who’s very much that type of player.
With the 24th pick: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
25. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Needs: RB, LB, WR
What I know: Philly is in an awesome spot. The roster is in good shape, they don’t have to press needs, and they can take a risk on a falling player who’s outrageously athletic and a good schematic fit for their defense.
With the 25th pick: Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
26. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Needs: WR, DE, LB
What I know: Chris Ballard is coming off a generational draft in 2018, and was able to effectively patch up the team’s biggest needs in free agency—adding Devin Funchess at receiver and Justin Houston as an edge rusher—which allows the team to go get a guy who would be, perhaps, right there with Bosa and Quinnen Williams on tape alone. But an ugly incident in high school and torn ACL are part of the file here, of course.
With the 26th pick: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
27. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Needs: DE, ILB, RB
What I know: You’ve already heard what I know about these guys. But at No. 27, finding a replacement for Jared Cook would be nice, and Noah Fant’s gone.
With the 27th pick: Irv Smith, TE, Alabama
28. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Needs: OT, CB, DT
What I know: The Chargers are in outstanding shape from a roster standpoint, which gives them a shot to shoot for, among other things, Russell Okung’s heir, or even Philip Rivers’s heir. (It wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the Josh Rosen market if Arizona takes Murray.) No matter what, they’ve got flexibility to go best player available here.
With the 28th pick: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
29. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Needs: C, OLB, CB
What I know: Oklahoma WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown would be great Tyreek Hill insurance, given his pending situation. And I’ve heard they’re going to take a corner for forever. But this lines up perfectly with a player who I could see going as high as the teens still being available for the Chiefs to replace Mitch Morse.
With the 29th pick: Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State
30. GREEN BAY PACKERS
Needs: TE, WR, DT
What I know: Again, I think they’ll address the offensive line at some point. And this may well be that point. But I also know that Matt LaFleur’s offense needs a burner, like he had in Taylor Gabriel in Atlanta, and Sammy Watkins in L.A. And Hollywood is still on the board here.
With the 30th pick: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
31. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Needs: LB, OG, C
What I know: John Sullivan’s gone. So is Rodger Saffold. Which means if the right offensive lineman falls to the Rams, I think the guys there would be pretty happy. Thanks to the Packers taking Brown at No. 30, that happens here...
With the 31st pick: Elgton Jenkins, G/C, Mississippi State
32. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Needs: DE, TE, WR
What I know: Bill Belichick is always looking ahead, and he mentioned in his pre-draft press conference the need to match up with bigger receivers and athletic tight ends. The Patriots have had Patrick Chung in that role for a while. They could find another, bigger version of him. And I think that’s what they’ll see in this guy, rather than just lining up as a corner like most are doing.
With the 32nd pick: Joejuan Williams, DB, Vanderbilt
FINAL TAKEAWAYS ON THE NFL’S NEW HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER
In some ways, this year’s Russell Wilson negotiation mirrored what we saw between the quarterback and the Seahawks four years ago—a lot of talk about groundbreaking terms, ahead of a four-year extension with a pretty conventional structure. But in the wake of this more recent deal’s completion (which happened just after the midnight deadline on April 15/16), Wilson’s agent was quick to point out one key distinction.
And it’s an important one in framing how this went for Mark Rodgers, who’s made his name, and found his way to Wilson, working in baseball.
“Four years ago, I felt like I was in a baseball arbitration negotiation, where I had to compare my client’s statistics to those of a comparable player,” he said the other night. “This time, I felt like I was representing one of the elite players in the NFL, and no one was arguing that fact.”
So now that it’s over, we can comb through some of the details, and note what was important in pushing it over the goal line. As usual, some finer details tell the story of how the team and player reached a compromise. Earlier in the negotiation, Wilson’s side gave the Seahawks three proposals (at least one had money tied to percentages of the salary cap), and the final deal had elements of each in it.
Here are some elements that pushed team and player to that middle ground.
1) The cashflow. Wilson’s getting $70 million this year, $88 million between this year and next, and $107 million over the first three years of his deal. Seattle stuck to its policy of not funding guarantees in future seasons, but seasons two and three become guaranteed in March of those years. And the Seahawks would have to pay $70 million for one year and carry $52 million in dead money to cut him next March, and $44 million per year and carry $39 million in dead money to cut him the March after that. So he’s almost certainly getting through three years.
2) The combination of roster bonuses in 2022 and ’23, and the no-trade clause. Having the roster bonuses in March of those years, at $5 million, made it so, logically, Seattle would have to make an early decision if it planned to move on from Wilson at those junctures, and the no-trade clause limited the team’s options in that scenario. Essentially, it makes it highly likely that if Wilson isn’t going to collect his $24 million in 2022 or his $26 million in 2023, Seattle will have to send him to the market at 33 or 34 years old.
3) The price of tagging him in 2024. Wilson’s cap number for 2023 is $39 million. That means putting the franchise tag on him in ’24, if the rules stay the same, would be a minimum of 120% of that, or $46.8 million. Tagging him again in ’25 would cost $56.16 million. These tags always frame deals, and these numbers mean Wilson would be in line four a fourth contract four years from now, in his mid-30s, with well over $100 million its first two years.
4) One last sweetener. There are escalators in the deal (based on first-ballot Pro Bowl, Super Bowl MVP, and Offensive Player of the Year honors, plus touchdown passes, yards, and completion percentage) that can bring Wilson another $6 million. And if he hits those, it’d probably be good for everyone.
So the bad news for players here? Wilson’s contract didn’t break any Seahawks’ precedents or take aim at the folly of the NFL’s ridiculous funding rule (which forces teams to fund every fully-guaranteed dollar up-front with the league), which gives teams an excuse to give themselves trapdoors in contracts. That’s why Kirk Cousins’ contract was such a landmark one.
But Wilson wound up with $23.24 million more through three years than he’d have gotten playing out his current deal and on two franchise tags (like Cousins did), and he figures to get another bite of the financial apple. All of which certainly isn’t a loss for him.
WHEN DO THEY SCHEDULE THE SCHEDULE-MAKING?
If you want a full rundown on the schedule, and the impact that the movement of three star players (and the amazing rise of the Browns and the…Phillies?!?) had on the schedule, check out my Game Plan from Thursday. And if you want one leftover I found pretty interesting, well, I’ll give it to you now.
The first question I asked the schedule-makers when I got into the Val Pinchbeck room on Wednesday was simple: When does this actually start? The answer is the day after the previous season ends. And they then explained that teams don’t have to get their stadium blocks and other requests in until the end of January and it’s only after that, at the Super Bowl, that they get the networks’ final asks.
So what do they do in January? That month, for the most part, is spent identifying and trying to place what they call the “constrained” games. Inside the template of 256 total games, they’ll wind up with about 50 of those (nearly 20%) that can only be moved so far in one direction or another.
“Mathematically speaking, it’s the most constrained games as we’re searching through this infinite solution space,” VP of broadcasting Mike North explained, before pointing to a TV with the schedule grid on it. “You see it up there in Week 5 in a blue box with an underline, that means Packers at Cowboys, Fox is blue, underline is doubleheader—Sunday afternoon 4:25, Packers-Cowboys sounds right.
“So at some point, Howard [Katz] looked at the list of 256, picked out Packers-Cowboys and said, ‘I think I like that as a Fox doubleheader, I don’t think I want to see it in Week 1, I’m not sure we want to save it til Week 16, so somewhere in the middle. You know the Cowboys are gonna be playing on Thanksgiving in Week 13, so you know it’s not gonna be there, they’re working around their own stadium blocks, they’ve got the Rangers playing across the street.