The CBA and Franchise Tag Remain Big Stories as the Combine Gets Underway

Also, Jalen Hurts could be a sleeper, Joe Burrow's hand size is no big deal and two interesting comments from Packers President Mark Murphy.
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• One piece of clean-up from the MMQB column: Bruce Feldman of Fox and The Athletic reported on Monday morning that one of our combine freaks, Cal safety Ashtyn Davis, won’t be participating in drills in Indy as he continues to heal up from groin surgery. So with one DB down, we’ll give you another to consider: Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene. He arrived on campus in 2017 as a receiver and return man before switching to defense in 2018 to play a position he hadn’t since middle school. Suffice it to say, it worked. And he was a track athlete at Auburn too (triple jump and long jump) so it’s fair to guess that he’ll do well in drills in Indy.

• The franchise tag window opens on Thursday, and I’ll be interested to see what happens to the top pass-rushers. Jadeveon Clowney made a deal that precluded Seattle from tagging him when he was dealt there in August, so this doesn’t apply to him, but the Jaguars and Ravens have interesting calls to make on Yannick Ngaukoe and Matthew Judon. The tag number for defensive ends (Ngaukoe) figures to come in north of $19 million and for linebackers (Judon) it will be over $16 million. That would’ve been a deterrent to tagging guys in the past, because it gives the players a strong leverage point, setting a floor for a long-term deal, and eats up a lot of cap space in a lump sum. But after last year, the door now seems more than ajar for tag-and-trade situations—one such deal last year landed Dee Ford in San Francisco, which cleared the way for another such deal, with Frank Clark going from Seattle to Kansas City to replace him. And so it’s not crazy to think what had been an impossible ask in the past, finding a team willing to fork over premium draft capital and a big contract, is not one anymore. We’ll see what happens, but it seems the option is at least out there for the Ravens and Jags not to have to rely on the comp-pick formula in getting a return for those two.

• While we’re there, the obvious other spot where the use of tags will be interesting is at quarterback. Dallas’s Dak Prescott seems a sure bet to be tagged. Will Tennessee tag Ryan Tannehill? Will Tampa tag Jameis Winston? I don’t think it’s crazy to think those teams might want to dip their toes into the tampering waters this week to see how realistic some other options might before making calls on those two.

• We already have combine news! Sort of. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow posted the first buzzy number of the week in Indy, with his hands coming in at just 9 inches. That’s more than a full inch smaller than former first-rounders Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch, as well shorter QBs Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Kyler Murray. Does it matter? Well, Jared Goff had 9-inch hands too, and went first overall, and played in the Super Bowl in his third NFL season. And when I asked around, I didn’t sense much concern. I hit up a bunch of scouts via text on Monday afternoon, and they let out a collective yawn over it. “If I was Cincy, it wouldn’t bother me at all,” said an NFC exec. A national scout for another team added, “Any red flag number this week is only an issue if you’re looking one. And an AFC college scouting director said, “He looked damn good physically” at the weigh-in. Burrow also has a good sense of humor about it.

• One leftover from my talk with Daniel Jeremiah from last week for the MMQB column: He’s a Jalen Hurts believer. I asked him for sleeper QBs. He gave me Washington’s Jacob Eason (“There’s a lot of talent there, a lot of ability there and I think he’ll have some sponsors around the league”), and the guy who took Eason’s job at Georgia, Jake Fromm (“I was talking with Bucky [Brooks] the other day, on the podcast, and I was asking him about Jake Fromm versus somebody Bucky had played with in Jake Delhomme, one of those guys who, in the right spot, good defense, good run game, he’s got some poise and some moxie, he can be a successful player”). And then he turned his attention to the Oklahoma QB. “I was just going through some of the numbers the other day, just looking at this report, through PFF on some of the pressure performance, throws under pressure,” Jeremiah said. “And Burrow was far and away the best, I think it was 17 touchdowns, one pick under pressure. Everyone else is like four touchdowns, two picks, or four touchdowns, six picks. Jalen Hurts, I believe, was nine touchdowns, two picks, and was pretty efficient. And so while I wish he would throw with more anticipation, timing and touch at times, that’s a pretty good sign that when he’s been under pressure, he’s made some plays and performed. So we know about the athletic ability and the leadership and all that. He’s one of those guys, he’ll get in the room, and I think he’ll really impress some people. Son of a coach and all that stuff’s gonna play well for him. He’s one I would keep an eye on that might go a little higher than everyone has anticipated.”

• And a leftover from Todd McShay: He believes, as I do, that there’ll be a team or two that will look at this year’s class and consider waiting for a group that should be headed by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and, maybe, Ohio State’s Justin Fields. “I think the Trevor thing’s real,” McShay said. “Miami’s in a unique situation, because they have five in the first two rounds, and they’ve kind of put everything into this year’s basket, and now you have the Tua (Tagovailoa) hip injury. But if you’re a team like Carolina, Indy, it depends on how the free agency thing plays out, how the dominoes fall, but you have to look at the value and what you have to give up to go and get Tua, really, because I think Burrow’s likely to be the first overall pick, we’ll see what happens. So how much do we have to give up to go get Tua, who’s coming off the hip injury, and we’re really uncertain about the future, versus maybe moving back this year, eat for a year, and get a quarterback who has a chance to be a once-in-a-decade type player? I mean, he’s so special.” We’ve seen this before. In 2017, the Jets, Bills and Browns consciously punted in anticipation of a stellar 2018 class. (They wound up passing on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the process.)

• With CBA talks on the horizon tomorrow, here’s the real deadline: March 10. The NFLPA has its player rep meetings in Miami from March 7-10, during which time the union will elect a new president. The outgoing president, Eric Winston, isn’t eligible to be re-elected, because he’s not an active player anymore, and he was the one guy who was consistently there outside of NFLPA staff and lawyers over the last six months or so as the league and union worked on the proposal that was voted on last week. If there’s no deal by then, it stands to reason that players may see it necessary to elect a hard-liner, because whoever is elected at that point would serve as president during a potential lockout. And if it’s a hard-liner, it’s possible the current deal gets thrown out.

• I’d have mentioned higher in the column that Chase Young won’t work out in Indy, but I’m not sure it belongs much higher than here. Young’s the best player in the draft. Working out in Indy wasn’t going to help him.

• Packers president Mark Murphy told reporters two interesting things outside Monday’s competition committee meeting. One, he said that teams having a ninth home game would alternate by conference in the 17-game schedule. It wouldn’t stun me if, eventually, the international slate is worked into that too. If you wanted to have eight international games a year (the NFL has five right now), then you could say to teams that two out of every four years, your 17th game is going to be abroad, and then you get one home and one away in the alternating years. And two, he said he’s intrigued by the XFL’s kickoff format. As he, and the NFL as a whole, should be.

• One thing to remember on Tua Tagovailoa, as he’s in the midst of a very important week: Different team doctors will have different opinions on his hip. It’s possible some docs fail him, some clear him and some give him varying grades on where the football people can start considering him. GMs and coaches usually trust their doctors on that stuff, and will tell anyone who’ll listen, “It’s out of my hands.” So here’s a good story, as it relates to that. In 2010, the Patriots, through some digging, figured out that the Ravens liked Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski. So as the second round started that year, the team started looking for trade partners. The Pats found one, dealing up with the Raiders to get from 44th overall to the 42nd pick, leapfrogging Baltimore, which was sitting at 43, to get Gronk. The funny part? The Ravens’ medical grade on the then-20-year-old, while not a failing one, would not have allowed them to take him there. But I bet the Patriots haven’t spent much time lamenting the sixth-rounder they traded to Oakland to make that happen. The lesson? I guess it’s that if you have conviction on a player, go get him. Don’t take chances. We’ll see if someone feels like that about Tua.

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