The NFL just completed one of its most misunderstood, but widely covered offseason events, the NFL Combine. Sure, the Combine features some of the most talented athletic bodies in the world competing against each other in feats of strength, speed and endurance. But any front office executive that isn’t lying to you will tell you that the most important event at the Combine is the medical evaluation. Or hold on, it’s the interviews. No, no… it’s the illegal tampering and soft free agent bargaining.
My sources tell me all three things are in fact the single most important thing.
At the very least NFL Insiders want to say that the Combine contains many an event that hardly reaches our eyes and rarely reaches our ears. Some of this is just because NFL Insiders see value in being Insiders, and there’s nothing cool about being an Insider unless there’s information they have that you don’t. But most of this is true, which means that it’s inevitable that rumors leak out and speculation runs wild.
Given that nearly everybody has a vested interest in lying to the public when it comes to football (or at the very least, they think they do even when they don’t), a lot of these rumors are bunk. People who are well within the know can be reliable when it comes to how they acquired the knowledge they peddle, but may not be reliable in terms of how honest they are or what they choose to hold back.
That said, the Combine has produced quite a few rumors that we can speculate on, many of which may impact the Vikings. Unless otherwise sourced, the rumors come from Optimum Scouting’s excellent State of the Draft articles, Tony Pauline’s fantastic draft notes or my own sources.
Teddy Bridgewater did not impress during the interview portion of the NFL Combine, which is perhaps one of the most surprising rumors people are hearing around the NFL, given his reputation for extremely smart play and experience in a “pro-style” offense. Comparisons are floating around to Geno Smith (who also struggled in the interviews), which makes sense because a number of insiders are blaming Bridgewater’s agent for poor preparation. Bridgewater chose the highest bidder when it came to his agent, and
that happened to be Smith’s agency before the draft: Roc Nation, famously associated with Jay-Z (who is technically not an agent, but is the face of the company), after an extensive search process that notoriously featured Roc Nation, ended up being Kennard McGuire of MS World LLC. My mistake. As of right now, however, people are still blaming Bridgewater’s agent for his poor showing. Your mileage may vary on that.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were enamored with Bridgewater before the Combine and it figures they still are. If he’s there at #3, they’ll take him. If he’s not there, then they’ll take Khalil Mack or Jadeveon Clowney. Interestingly, the Jaguars have been one of the most open teams about the entire process. The Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders are good fits for Teddy.
Speaking of Clowney, it looks like the Jaguars won’t even get a chance to draft him. The Houston Texans are reportedly deciding between Clowney, Bridgewater and Central Florida prospect Blake Bortles. Right now, the Texans are leaning towards Clowney. Blake Bortles impressed a number of teams at the Combine during the interview portion.
If the Texans don’t pick him, then there’s a deal in place with the Atlanta Falcons to trade up to the St. Louis Rams‘ pick and select Clowney.
If Clowney isn’t there, the Falcons might have to consider a way to entice the Jaguars away from selecting Mack, as Khalil Mack is one of their top-rated players, and above Anthony Barr.
Clowney reportedly impressed a great many number of teams in his interviews, even teams that weren’t considering drafting him. The degree to which he nailed the interview portion of the Combine with all the teams surprised a lot of personnel people.
Derek Carr is the subject of much speculation. It turns out that the Fresno State alum is being considered by the Cleveland Browns (largely with the 26th pick, although Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network thinks it will be with their second-rounder), the Oakland Raiders (who don’t want him at #5, but would rather trade back) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Trading down may be a mistake, as at least two teams entered the Combine thinking he should be a top ten pick. In particular, Derek Carr’s close work with current Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has made Tampa Bay high on him. Tedford is close to the Carr family, and it sounds like the new regime is not necessarily sold on their current quarterback Mike Glennon. Tedford is well-known for producing quarterbacks, and was David Carr’s offensive coordinator at Fresno State for a short period of time.
It sounds like the Raiders aren’t interested in Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, and if forced to stay put may consider Auburn OT Greg Robinson or Clemson WR Sammy Watkins.
In fact, Johnny Manziel seems to be as divisive among teams as he is among NFL fans. The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders want no part in him. The Cleveland Browns, initially rumored to be big fans under the Mike Lombardi regime are no longer on board with Johnny Football with the new general manager, Ray Farmer, in charge.
It’s rumored that the Houston Texans are not on board the Manziel train, either. Johnny may be on the draft boards of the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys, too. Quarterbacks with high upside are of particular interest to the Minnesota Vikings, even if they are somewhat raw now. This means that Logan Thomas is a possibility if they don’t select in the first, as are Stephen Morris, Connor Shaw and Tom Savage. Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner have a few years of leeway, so grabbing a developmental project is easier for them than for others. Zach Mettenberger is off their board, because of off-field issues that exceed the public problems he had at Georgia and continued with his time at Louisiana State.
Mentioned earlier, but it looks like some NFL teams have the top four quarterbacks ranked 1) Blake Bortles, 2) Teddy Bridgewater, 3) Derek Carr, 4) Johnny Manziel.
The New York Giants are purportedly very interested in Mike Evans, wide receiver for Texas A&M.
The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks are big fans of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who won several awards as the best defensive player in the NCAA last year. The Chicago Bears, under general manager Phil Emery, reportedly do not think safeties are worth a high pick. The Cowboys will be prioritizing their defensive line, just like the Bears. The Seahawks, evidently, cannot contain their excitement about Donald.
In addition to Aaron Donald, the Seattle Seahawks are very intrigued by Louisiana State wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. He most likely will be there at the bottom of the first round. If they don’t get him, expect the Seahawks to move strongly towards drafting offensive linemen.
The Detroit Lions are expected to selected a defensive back, though a receiver is not out of the question. The Green Bay Packers want to draft a quarterback this year, though no necessarily very high. They seem very interested in Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, too.
The San Diego Chargers will focus on the defensive line early in the draft, unless one of their top-rated defensive backs falls.
The Carolina Panthers will evidently target Brandon Thomas, offensive tackle from Clemson in day two of the draft.
Keith McGill of Utah and Phillip Gaines of Rice had phenomenal combine workouts, but they probably didn’t rise up the boards too much, and despite being listed as cornerbacks may be drafted as safeties.
Cameron Fleming, on the other hand, is rising further up boards than people would have thought given his inconsistent play as an offensive tackle for the Stanford Cardinal. He may go in the top 50.
Jason Verrett, a cornerback many consider to be one of the top CBs in the country from Texas Christian, evidently played his excellent season with a torn shoulder labrum.
Jimmie Ward, safety from Northern Illinois, was expected to boost his stock at the Combine, but injury kept him from performing. His Pro Day will be significant. The same thing happened to the tight end from Washington, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who unexpectedly had a foot fracture revealed to him during the medical portion of the combine, despite not feeling pain.
It is expected that inside linebacker C.J. Mosely be selected in the top fifteen.
Troy Niklas made gains at the Combine and is considered to be one of the draft’s only complete tight ends.
Jerrick McKinnon may have had the best Combine workout out of any player at the draft, yet went virtually unnoticed by the media. He had the best weight/speed combination at 209 pounds, with a 4.41 40-yard dash, with a mind-boggling ten-yard split of 1.46 seconds, which is one of the fastest recorded at the Combine in years (interestingly, Dri Archer’s near-record run had an identical ten-yard split).
McKinnon also benched more reps than any other running back with an astounding 32 bench reps and jumped higher than almost everyone at the Combine with a leap of 40.5″. His 11’0″ broad jump was also elite among peers and he had blazing 3-cone and short shuttle times of 6.83 and 4.12 seconds, respectively. It is rare for a player to top the strength, agility and speed drills, but McKinnon did it and raised his stock from a priority undrafted free agent to a potential day two pick, with some teams making him the fifth running back on their board.
Some NFL scouts think that Caraun Reid, nose tackle from Princeton could end up a bigger hit than projected first-round pick nose tackle Louis Nix if he’s “tough enough.”
Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio failed the physical for a number of NFL teams. His knees were “ugly.” Kouandjio can say “goodbye to round one” according to a number of scouts, and was considered to be sluggish and totally unprepared for the combine.
In an atmosphere of rehearsed responses and practiced speeches, Cody Latimer and Zach Mettenberger refused to follow a script or practice for their pressers or interviews. They were forceful, charismatic and a refreshing change of pace. In all likelihood, it helped more than hurt them.
In addition to the Vikings’ board (pre-Combine), Mettenberger has been taken off of a few other teams’ boards as well.
Free Agency Rumors
As for free agents, the rumors swirl just as strongly.
The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to keep Jim Harbaugh despite there being two years left on the deal. Talk at the Combine is that there is “no way” they’ll keep Harbaugh and that his ego is too much for the front office, where there has been tension as of late. The reported trade rumors to Cleveland are widely believed by team executives around the Combine and they expect him to go to the Dallas Cowboys if he doesn’t win a Super Bowl. If the Cowboys don’t land him, the Miami Dolphins will do their best to.
The 49ers are doing all they can to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and are optimistic about getting him back. They want cornerback Carlos Rogers to cut his salary by more than half. They will not ask Frank Gore to take a pay cut. They are close to an agreement with Anquan Boldin.
The Dolphins will attempt to trade Jonathan Martin and are targeting Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe. Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll will be allowed to hit free agency. The Dolphins want to re-sign defensive tackle Randy Starks, but haven’t made him an offer yet. Linebacker Philip Wheeler is on the chopping block. The Indianapolis Colts could be a landing spot for Jonathan Martin, and a number of Stanford alum are on staff or on the roster.
There are at least five other NFL teams interested in nose tackle Paul Soliai with at least two showing “quite serious” interest. Soliai doesn’t seem interested in returning to Miami, and has already sold his house. Buzz at the Combine was that he’s already long gone from the Dolphins. The Dolphins are more likely than not to re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes, who had an excellent season. They will not franchise tag him.
Darren McFadden won’t likely get a deal done with the Oakland Raiders before the deadline on March 11th, though they plan on continuing to talk through that period. They are very cautious about re-signing him and will only do so if the market for him is weak. The Raiders will also use the franchise tag on Lamarr Houston. There’s a good chance running back Rashad Jennings is a higher priority.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive linemen Branden Albert and Geoff Schwartz are both going to hit free agency with a number of suitors and both raised significant interest at the Combine. The Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the running as top suitors for Albert. The Chiefs have contacted quarterback Alex Smith‘s agent for a long-term extension.
If the Cardinals do not sign an offensive tackle, it will be their first priority in the draft. They are also targeting pass-rushing Packers linebacker Mike Neal, who had previously been connected to the Eagles, but denied it. Patrick Peterson is in talks with the Cardinals for a very long-term extension. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is considering retirement.
The Buccaneers are evidently fielding offers for Darrelle Revis, though they aren’t the ones shopping him, merely receiver offers. Head coach Lovie Smith has given hint of his defensive plans, and they would be well-suited to keeping Revis. Nevertheless, they could get rid of him.
They are currently in talks with fullback Erik Lorig and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. They are planning to cut tackle Donald Penn. Many personnel executives at the Combine think that they will be able to sign free agent defensive end Jared Allen.
The Baltimore Ravens will let safety James Ihedigbo hit free agency and move Matt Elam to strong safety as they target a free safety in the offseason. There’s a good chance they re-sign tight end Dennis Pitta.
The New York Jets are making signing Austin Howard a priority. They also want to sign Calvin Pace for one more season.
The Tennessee Titans are letting Alterraun Verner hit free agency; they do not think they can afford him. He is expected to command a salary near $9 million a year. They evidently will not cut running back Chris Johnson, but are attempting to restructure his contract. The Titans are expected to draft a quarterback later in the draft to give Jake Locker competition.
The Titans will not re-sign wide receiver Kenny Britt, but do expect to keep safety Michael Griffin and receiver Nate Washington. They will not likely be able to keep offensive tackle David Stewart. They do intend to sign safety Bernard Pollard. They want to retain defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, but his price tag is too high. They may need to restructure before free agency.
The Denver Broncos will likely let Zane Beadles hit free agency, though that’s not a sure thing. If he does, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins have a lot of interest in him.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will not put very much effort into re-signing running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Atlanta Falcons are at even odds for re-signing center Stephen Hawley. They are expected to release safety Thomas DeCoud.
There is a possibility that the Cincinnati Bengals cut Carlos Dunlap to make room for incoming free agents.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a very difficult time re-signing pass-rushing linebacker Jason Worilds. A dozen teams are interested in him. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders will hit free agency; the Steelers are not optimistic about signing him before March 11th.
The Chicago Bears are very interested in signing nose tackle Jay Ratliff, and are also interested in re-signing cornerback Kelvin Hayden. They also intend to pursue injured but very talented defensive tackle Henry Melton.
A number of teams are interested in offensive tackle Rodger Saffold if he does not re-sign with the St. Louis Rams. He is not expected to be re-signed before the deadline on March 11th, but will remain in talks with the team throughout the process.
New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty will have to wait on his contract extension. They have, however, reached out to cornerback Aqib Talib in hopes of re-signing him. He is a top priority for them. There is a lot of talk around the Combine that former head coach Greg Schiano could join the Patriots coaching staff.
The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to extend center Jason Kelce. They have put running back Bryce Brown on the trading block. Receiver Riley Cooper is about to sign a four-year extension with the Eagles, and was a higher priority than receiver Jeremy Maclin.
The New York Giants will target an array of young guards in free agency, including Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Chad Rinehart, Zane Beadles and Shawn Lauvao. Chris Snee will return. The Giants will target a running back in the draft or free agency. They are not optimistic about re-signing defensive end Justin Tuck.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is going to be well-received by front offices around the league, but will have to agree to a short-term deal with the team he signs in all likelihood. The Packers will attempt to re-sign him, but probably won’t put in as much effort as other teams around the league.
They are also willing to sign B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, though they won’t spend too much on either. For the first time in years, the Packers have indicated that they are willing to spend big in free agency. Cornerback Sam Shields is a priority for them, and he and Green Bay are close to a deal. There is mutual interest between the Packers and fullback John Kuhn and they will likely re-sign.
The New Orleans Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham are “several million dollars apart” per year in contract talks. The Saints are expected to put the franchise tag on Graham, and the league will determine if that means Graham will earn the franchise tag money for his designation as a tight end or as a receiver—a difference of several million dollars. Expect an appeal regardless of the league’s decision.
The Saints are also expected to extend WR Joe Morgan and S Rafael Bush. They are holding contract talks with tackle Zach Strief and pass-rushing linebacker Parys Haralson as well. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson will not be tendered and will be an unrestricted free agent. Pierre Thomas may be cut.
The Carolina Panthers have restructured the contracts of center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart. Along with tackle Jordan Gross‘ retirement, the Panthers have enough cap space freed up to attempt franchising Greg Hardy or re-signing him. The Panthers’ plans are to give Hardy an even more lucrative contract than his partner, Charles Johnson, has (six years, $78 million). There is not much reason to believe wide receiver Steve Smith will be on the roster next season.
The Washington Redskins are currently in talks with pass-rushing linebacker Brian Orakpo, and may have a chance to re-sign him before free agency, though there are no indications that the talks have progressed. They are looking for a second-round pick for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Seattle Seahawks are likely to cut defensive end Red Bryant, who should generate interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots.
The Cleveland Browns are expected to be big players for safety Jairus Byrd if the Buffalo Bills don’t retain him; their new head coach was his defensive coordinator. It is unlikely, however, that Byrd would hit free agency. If they can’t get a deal done, the Bills will likely franchise him again.
The Detroit Lions will not re-sign defensive end Israel Idonije, kicker David Akers, center Dylan Gandy, linebacker Rocky McIntosh or safety John Wendling. They are interested in re-signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Joique Bell, though there is a healthy market for Bell. They do expect to extend defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a long-term deal.
The San Diego Chargers consider inside linebacker Donald Butler to be a top priority.
There’s a large market for free agent quarterback Michael Vick. The New York Jets are seen as a legitimate landing spot for him, and they are intrigued by the possibility of signing him. He has the opportunity to start there. The Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings are also teams looking to sign Michael Vick as a starter, at least for the short term. The Jets may more likely be able to land Josh McCown, because Vick and Matt Schaub may not want to be put into a situation where they could viably be a backup.
The San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking at Vick as well, but as a backup.
The buzz around the Combine is that the Minnesota Vikings will sign Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who worked with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator. The Vikings’ meeting with Jared Allen was extremely constructive, and though Allen will test free agency, will keep the Vikings apprised of all offers as a courtesy. His agent loves the Vikings. Aside from the Buccaneers, Allen is generating interest from the Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts.
The Vikings are committed to re-signing Matt Cassel, and have reached out to him multiple times. They are willing, but he is likely to test the free agency market in order to leverage the best possible deal. They have a lot of resources invested in re-signing defensive end Everson Griffen and he remains their top target.