The NFL’s offseason maneuvering begins in earnest soon. There already has been plenty of speculation about the potential landing spots for veteran quarterbacks Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Kirk Cousins if they become available.
But quarterback-needy teams league-wide also must consider the possibilities for getting what they need through the NFL draft. That means assessing the merits of a group of draft-eligible quarterbacks that includes Deshaun Watson of Clemson, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech. That process intensifies this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Is there a franchise quarterback (or two) to be had in this class? Opinions vary at this point in the evaluation process.
“I think these are guys that deserve to go late in the first round, early in the second round, somewhere in there,” a front office executive with one NFL team said recently. “I don’t think these are top-10, top-five guys. Now, I’m sure you’ll see some of these guys go in the top five or top 10 because there are teams up there that really, really need a quarterback. But, to me, it’ll be a reach.”
A personnel executive with another franchise said in recent weeks: “Is there a clear-cut number one quarterback? No. But there are certainly things to like about several of them. Watson has a real star quality to him. You saw that when he played in big games. Trubisky is an interesting player. I’m sure there will be productive starters who come out of this group. People just need to figure out which ones.”
Few people in and around the sport seemed all that enamored with last year’s quarterback draft class early in the process, remember. But then the Los Angeles Rams traded up for the top overall pick and used it on Jared Goff of Cal, and the Philadelphia Eagles traded up for the No. 2 choice and used it on Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. The Denver Broncos traded up to get Paxton Lynch of Memphis later in the first round. The Dallas Cowboys waited until the fourth round to get the quarterback, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, who ended up outplaying all of his rookie peers.
The first-round draft order adds to this year’s intrigue. The Cleveland Browns, after trading out of the No. 2 spot last year and thus passing up Wentz, remain in their perpetual need of a quarterback and have the first and 12th overall selections. But the conventional wisdom is that they will use the top pick on Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett and then address their quarterback situation with the 12th choice, perhaps by using it as part of a trade package for the New England Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo.
The San Francisco 49ers, who are likely to move on from Kaepernick, have the second pick. They could attempt to bid for Cousins, who is expected to be franchise-tagged by the Washington Redskins, or they could keep the selection and draft their prospective quarterback of the future.
The Chicago Bears, widely expected to trade or release Cutler, pick third. The quarterback-deprived New York Jets pick sixth. The Buffalo Bills, who must make a decision about the future of current starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, pick 10th. That’s a lot of quarterback need in the top 10. And that list doesn’t even include the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the fourth pick and haven’t exactly tied themselves inextricably to Blake Bortles, or the Los Angles Chargers, who pick seventh and will need to put a successor to Philip Rivers in place at some point.
It will take weeks to months for this quarterback market to sort itself out. But the many possibilities will be on the minds of virtually everyone in those organizations this week in Indianapolis.
… AND TEN
1. Chiefs and Romo? Alex Smith had a pretty good 2016 season for the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw for 3,502 yards and 15 touchdowns, with eight interceptions and a 91.2 passer rating. But the Chiefs again were not much of a factor in the playoffs, losing an AFC semifinal at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Will Kansas City make a change at quarterback? It seems like a bit of a long shot. Smith is a perfectly competent starter who just reached his second career Pro Bowl. Successful teams with such a quarterback usually don’t seek an upgrade and incur the risk that they will take a step backward instead.
But there remains speculation that the Chiefs will be in the running for Romo. The Chiefs, like the Broncos and Houston Texans, would represent a championship-caliber team that, with Romo, would have legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Under such a scenario, Smith might be allowed to move on, and there has been talk that he could be a candidate to take over as the Jets’ starter. That would add even more moving parts to an already complicated league-wide quarterback market.
The Texans and Broncos still seem like, by far, the most logical landing spots for Romo, particularly if he is released by the Cowboys and put totally in control of picking his next team. But there are some who are convinced that the Chiefs should be viewed as a viable Romo contender.
3. Glennon’s market Quarterback Mike Glennon is set to be a free agent after four seasons in Tampa, the last two of which were spent as Jameis Winston’s backup. But he made 18 starts over his first two seasons with the Buccaneers, and he threw for 2,608 yards and 19 touchdowns (with nine interceptions) in 13 games as a rookie in 2013. He won’t be the most in-demand quarterback this offseason. But he should not be forgotten and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him end up with a starting job somewhere.
4. Marijuana proposal The pledge by the Trump administration to enforce the federal prohibition on recreational marijuana use comes at a time when the NFL Players Association has said it is preparing to make a proposal to the league that would take a less punitive approach to recreational marijuana use by players under the sport’s drug policy.
The new approach by the White House, which would contrast with the hands-off tact taken by the Obama administration when it came to conflicts between the federal ban and legalization in some states, is unlikely to affect the NFLPA’s proposal. The union’s plan is to take up the matter at its annual meeting next month and, if the measure is approved by its board of player representatives, make the proposal to the league.
But it remains to be seen if the new administration’s stance will affect how the union’s proposal is viewed by the league. The NFL would have to approve the proposal for it to take effect under the collectively bargained drug policy.
The union’s proposal regarding recreational marijuana use is to come while it separately studies the potential use of marijuana as a pain management tool for players. The NFLPA’s pain management committee is exploring that issue and is to make a report later in the spring.
5. Jaguars and Bortles The lukewarm endorsement of Bortles by new Jaguars executive Tom Coughlin could be a signal that the organization is considering moving on from the inconsistent quarterback. But more likely, it was a very public message to Bortles that it’s time to produce or else. Bortles looked like he was headed in the right direction in the second half of the 2015 season. He regressed this past season. But if the Jaguars can get Bortles back to where he was in ’15, they will be far closer to respectability than they would be if they start over with another young quarterback.
6. Later combine The relatively late start to the combine this year brings to mind the idea from a few years ago for a revamped NFL offseason calendar in which the scouting combine would be held in March, free agency would begin in April and the draft would be held in May. That would give the sport a major event in each of those months. This year’s draft, scheduled for April 27-29, isn’t far from May. But free agency is a long way from April, slated to begin on March 9. Players were not particularly receptive to the notion of a reworked offseason calendar when the league raised the possibility in the past, not wanting free agency to begin so late.
7. Bills’ wise PR move The Bills made a wise move by adding Derek Boyko to their front office as vice president of communications. He is one of the true pros on NFL public relations staffs, and he will be a valuable resource for the team’s first-year head coach, Sean McDermott. But the more interesting part of the transaction is that Boyko’s longtime team, the Eagles, allowed him to get away. After ejecting a local reporter from the press box during a game at Lincoln Financial Field this past season, an organization that long has been among the league’s best-run operations seems increasingly ambivalent about projecting a positive public image.
8. Jets and Revis Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, facing charges related to an alleged altercation with two men in Pittsburgh, is not scheduled to be back in court until March 15. That means it’s very unlikely that anything more will be known about his legal case by the time the Jets must make a decision about his future with the team. They have until March 10 to decide whether to release him or retain him and pay a $2 million roster bonus.
9. Jets’ makeover The Jets already have begun a much-needed makeover by releasing center Nick Mangold, offensive tackles Ryan Clady (who had a contract option for the 2017 season declined) and Breno Giacomini and place kicker Nick Folk. Revis could be next. There has been some speculation that wide receiver Brandon Marshall could be part of the purge. It’s unlikely that quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith will return. There is no way of knowing if the Jets will be any better next season. But at least they won’t be the same team.
10. Winston’s gaffe Winston made a clear verbal misstep last week when he told a group of elementary school students that boys should be strong and girls should be silent and polite. It underscored the fact that Winston still is young, remains perhaps a bit immature and continues to grow into his role as the face of the franchise. But for the most part, the Buccaneers have been pleased with Winston’s level of professionalism and his off-field conduct since they made him the top overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft. Winston’s off-field troubles while in college at Florida State were a major issue before that draft. But so far in the NFL, he has been productive on the field and he generally has been a solid citizen off the field, despite this public-speaking blunder.