Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
First and 10: March 20
1. Beast Mode vs. A.P. | 2. The market for RBs | 3. Tony Romo and Jerry Jones
4. Dallas’s decimated secondary | 5. Raiders vote upcoming?
6. Jets’ QB quandary | 7. Big Ben keeps on ticking
8. Rules changes on the way | 9. NFL officials: not bad, huh? | 10. CB shuffling in New England
It is a week and a half into NFL free agency. Most of the hefty contracts that are going to be negotiated already have been handed out. No one has signed Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler or Adrian Peterson. And no one should be particularly surprised by that.
If Kaepernick or Cutler thought he was going to be the first choice for any quarterback-needy team, that was a miscalculation. If Peterson believed that teams were going to regard him as a still-dominant runner and a big-money player around which an offense can be built, he now should be in the process of becoming more realistic about the market for him.
There presumably will be jobs for all three. But it will take the right team, the right circumstances, the right price.
The Kaepernick situation is complicated, of course. Any interested team must make a decision about him as a player, trying to figure out if he can ever come close to the level he once reached as a Super Bowl starter for the San Francisco 49ers. There also is a potential decision to be made about the public-perception ramifications of signing Kaepernick after he refused to stand for the national anthem before games this past season to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States.
Executives with multiple teams said at the recent NFL scouting combine that Kaepernick’s political statement would have to be at least considered by any organization before a signing.
“Certainly it’s a factor,” an executive with one organization said then. “Everything is a factor, especially at that position. You take everything into consideration. That’s the face of your franchise, as they say.”
So is that the sole reason that Kaepernick has not been signed? Some observers say yes, pointing to the deals struck for some far-from-upper-tier quarterbacks. Geno Smith, for example, has lined up a deal with the New York Giants to back up Eli Manning.
But Joe Banner, the former executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns who now is an NFL analyst for ESPN, wrote on Twitter last week he’s not convinced that Kaepernick is unsigned only because of his political statement. The quarterback market still is developing, Banner wrote.
“This is a backup QB one week into [free agency],” Banner wrote. “I am not convinced of the cause and effect.”
The number of starting jobs leaguewide is dwindling. The Chicago Bears signed Mike Glennon to replace Cutler. The 49ers signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley and perhaps could get by for a year if they think they cannot pry franchise-tagged quarterback Kirk Cousins from the Washington Redskins at this point.
The Browns remain in dire need but have been linked to a prospective trade for New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo or possibly one for Cousins; they also have the first and 12th overall choices in the NFL draft. Cutler’s name has been mentioned in connection with the New York Jets. But the Jets do have some options, even if they’re not all that attractive. They could sign free agent Josh McCown, who visited over the weekend. They could opt for Robert Griffin III, released after one season in Cleveland, or Chase Daniel, granted his release by the Eagles. They could attempt to trade for Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron. They could use the sixth pick in the draft on a quarterback and install that rookie as the immediate starter.
Peterson actually might have more possibilities. The Oakland Raiders need a running back after losing Latavius Murray, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the move that led General Manager Rick Spielman to pronounce that Peterson indeed would be heading elsewhere. The Raiders have been linked to the retired Marshawn Lynch, but Lynch remains contractually tied to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Green Bay Packers need a replacement for Eddie Lacy, who signed with the Seahawks. There once was talk linking Peterson to the Giants, Houston Texans or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Could the Patriots be a possibility?
The biggest deals in free agency are done. But some of the most interesting are still to come.
… AND TEN
Not at all.
Lynch, who turns 31 next month, is a year younger. Lynch, unlike Peterson, is not coming off a significant injury. Lynch just had time away from football for his body to recover.
True, Lynch has not been a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL since 2014. And true, the Raiders would have to work out a trade with the Seahawks or wait for Seattle to release Lynch if he comes out of retirement. But Lynch is popular in Oakland. The move undoubtedly would be welcomed by fans there. And he is a viable option as a player.
During the offseason, not so much.
It was a good season for running backs this past season. Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell were among the league’s most valuable players. There were a dozen 1,000-yard rushers leaguewide. In a pass-first league, the Cowboys and several other successful teams demonstrated that being able to run the ball effectively remains important.
But after the Steelers used the exclusive franchise tag to keep Bell off the free agent market, the going rate for the top running backs in this market has been about $5 million a year. That’s good money, of course. But it doesn’t stack up to what even the top guards are making in this market.
Teams view running backs as able to be replaced, for the most part. There are productive runners to be found in many places, including even the middle rounds of the draft. That will be particularly true in this draft class, which could be historically good for running backs.
No one is arguing that a player like Elliott or Bell comes along every day. No one is saying that Peterson in his prime was not among the league’s top players.
But if you can’t get Elliott or Bell or Peterson in his prime, NFL teams seem to figure, there is no reason to pay a premium price.
3. Romo and Jerry Jones: Quarterback Tony Romo, still on the roster of the Cowboys, continues to wait. So, too, do the Texans and Denver Broncos, who have refused to blink so far on surrendering something for Romo in a trade but seemingly remain poised to pursue him if he’s released.
How long, then, will Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continue to drag this out? Only Jones knows that for certain. But he and the key decision-makers for every NFL team, including the Texans and Broncos, will be in one place for several days early next week, with the annual league meeting being held at a Phoenix-area resort. Perhaps a resolution could come by then, or soon thereafter.
The unit needed work, anyway, after the Cowboys ranked 26th in the NFL in pass defense this past season. It easily could have been argued that there was no reason to keep that secondary intact.
But the Cowboys, facing a salary cap crunch, have been able to do little in free agency. They will have to focus on their defense in general and on their secondary in particular in the NFL draft. It certainly will be worth watching, given the widespread assumption that the Cowboys will remain a top NFC contender in Year 2 for Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
5. Raiders vote: Many within the league continue to assume that the owners will vote next week on the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas. And many continue to assume that the owners, perhaps reluctantly, will ratify the relocation, given the lack of what they regard as a viable new-stadium option in Oakland.
But remember that there generally is backroom maneuvering done with these deals at the last minute, and don’t completely rule out a twist or two while the owners are gathered in Phoenix.
A trade for McCarron makes sense if the cost is not prohibitive. He might not be a superstar in the making. But he seems capable of being a reasonably capable NFL starter.
Signing McCown makes little sense. That is a move that merely delays the choice of a quarterback of the future. It’s unlikely that McCown is the short-term answer. Even if he were to be that, there is not much of a future in signing him.
There are some within the league who believe that Daniel would succeed as an NFL starter. But there also are those who are skeptical about that.
Adding Cutler, Kaepernick or Griffin would be unlikely to work out. What is the recent evidence to the contrary?
Any of them — or McCown — could be the placeholder at quarterback if the Jets believe that Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg eventually will take over, or if they draft Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky or DeShone Kizer. But to count on Cutler, Kaepernick or Griffin to be anything more than that is probably not wise.
Roethlisberger was right to consider his options and give serious thought to his future. Everyone who plays this sport owes that to himself. But, in truth, there was almost no thought within the Steelers organization or elsewhere that Roethlisberger actually would walk away this offseason. The Steelers planned for him to keep playing, and now it appears to be all but official.
The committee is completing its work about what it will propose. Committee members have been considering the possibility of proposing an automatic ejection or suspension for a player for certain illegal hits.
Representatives of the NFL Players Association urged the committee during a meeting at the scouting combine to ban defensive players from leaping over the line of scrimmage on field goals or extra points.
The committee has been mulling having instant replay rulings made by members of the NFL’s officiating department in New York, in consultation with the referee on the field.
Another focus of the committee has been implementing measures to speed the pace of games. Possibilities include having tablets brought on the field for replay reviews and utilizing a play clock between an extra point and the ensuing kickoff.
The committee might loosen guidelines related to illegal celebrations. But that would be more likely to come via a point of emphasis to officials than as a formal rule change.
Any rule-change proposal by the committee must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners.
Owners also must reconsider two changes enacted last year on a one-year trial basis: automatic ejections for players penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct twice in the same game, and placing the football at the 25-yard line on touchbacks on kickoffs.
Just watch this NCAA tournament.
It makes the officiating in the NFL look practically flawless by comparison.
10. CB shuffle in NE? There is speculation that the Patriots will sign cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is a free agent after being released by the Jets. Revis spent the 2014 season with New England before returning to the Jets for his second stint with them.
The Revis move might make sense for the Patriots, who previously signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency, if they allow Malcolm Butler to leave for the New Orleans Saints as a restricted free agent.
Butler is said to be eager to leave because of the disparity between his contract and Gilmore’s. The Patriots would receive a first-round draft pick for allowing Butler to leave. The Saints would be unlikely to surrender the draft’s 11th overall selection to get Butler. But they and the Patriots could agree to do the deal for the 32nd choice, which New England sent to New Orleans in the Brandin Cooks trade.