Saquon Barkley, Shaquem Griffin crush NFL Combine, Kirk Cousins rumors and more

NFL


The NFL Scouting Combine is always a hub for news, but this year, rumors and storylines coming out of Indianapolis are zipping around at warp speed.

One hand, zero excuses. Shaquem Griffin was an afterthought for the NFL Combine, excluded from the initial round of invitations. Then, after getting the invitation to Indianapolis, the Central Florida linebacker showed up and showed out, taking the proceedings and making them his own.

Griffin, who was born without a left hand, ran a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash on Sunday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium, easily the fastest among his position group. This coming a day after the youngster put up 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press … with one hand.

The performance put him squarely into the mix as a third or fourth-round pick, only days after most would have considered him only a few rounds later. Griffin was praised universally, including from a litany of current and former NFL stars, including Deion Sanders, Ryan ShazierJ.J. Watt and Richard Sherman.

In short, Griffin’s awe-inspiring efforts earned him a ton of cash come April at the NFL Draft.

Then there was Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley, already seen universally as a top-five pick, was phenomenal in all phases of testing. The All-American ran a 4.41 40-yard dash with 29 reps on the bench and a 41-inch vertical.

After such a dominant performance, there will be ample talk about the Cleveland Browns taking Barkley with the No. 1 overall selection. Unless general manager John Dorsey believes there is not a franchise quarterback in this class, that would be a mistake. Cleveland has to take the top signal-caller on the board and work from there, even if it means missing out on Barkley.

After this weekend, it’s hard to see him sliding past No. 3 and the Indianapolis Colts.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill is beginning to rev up. Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry signed his $16.2 million franchise tag on Saturday night, making him eligible for trade. From all appearances, the Dolphins are trying to move their 25-year-old star, especially after acquiring defensive end Robert Quinn in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams.

Miami is $20 million over the projected salary cap (counting Quinn’s salary) and dealing Landry would alleviate much of the financial woes. However, teams can wait the Dolphins out, knowing they have to be cap compliant by the start of the league year on March 14. General managers have to ask themselves whether dealing a mid-round pick is worth exclusive negotiating rights for a player who led the league in receptions last year, but also failed to crack 1,000 yards.

Look for the Chicago Bears to be interested in Landry, with both a clear need and the capital available. The Houston Texans would also be a good fit, giving a running mate to DeAndre Hopkins and another weapon for Deshaun Watson.

Then there was Jon Gruden, who made the most memorable comment of the weekend. Doing his first press conference since being introduced as the Oakland Raiders head coach in January, the 54-year-old said “I’m trying to bring the game back to 1998.”

Gruden went on to talk about his love of fullbacks and his aversion to analytics. For a coach who hasn’t been on the sidelines since 2008, and who hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XXXVII, those statements should be disconcerting on the East Bay.

With the combine in the rearview mirror, the NFL calendar turns to free agency. The insanity begins in earnest on Monday afternoon when the tampering period gets underway, giving us chaos well into March.

The Super Bowl was only a month ago, but the new season has already begun.

Power rankings

Top 12 undrafted free agents since 1990

1. Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis Rams
2. John Randle, DT, Minnesota Vikings
3. Antonio Gates, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
4. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
5. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
6. Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
7. Rod Smith, WR, Denver Broncos
8. James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
9. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
10. London Fletcher, ILB, Washington Redskins
11. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
12. Adam Vinatieri, K, Indianapolis Colts/ New England Patriots

Quotable

Kansas City general manager Brett Veach had the statement of the combine on Thursday afternoon, stating that second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes is one of the best players he’s ever seen. Mahomes, who has only started one game — a Week 17 win over the Broncos — already has lofty expectations going into 2018.

After a comment like that, they will only continue to rise.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill broadcast a new episode on iTunes and Facebook Live (on the FanSided page) every Monday! This week the duo talks combine, free agency and more.

Random stat

The Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls since 2000. The Cleveland Browns, who moved and became the Ravens in their original iteration, haven’t reached the playoffs twice since reestablishing as a franchise in 1999.

Info learned this week

1. Vikings zeroing in on Cousins

The Minnesota Vikings are apparently focusing in on Kirk Cousins. Cousins, 29, is likely to land the biggest contract in NFL history, and the Vikings have a clear need with Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford all expected to hit the market.

Cousins could very well command $30 million per year and near $100 million in guarantees, something Minnesota can afford. The Vikings are projected to have $49 million in cap space, and landing Cousins would immediately make them a favorite to reach Super Bowl LIII after playing in the NFC Championship Game last season.

The Vikings won’t be without competition for his services, though. The Denver Broncos are carrying a whopping $10.2 million in cap space over to this year, likely to make Cousins more affordable. The Arizona Cardinals are also in desperate need of a quarterback, with all three from last year either retiring or hitting free agency. The New York Jets will also be heavily involved, reportedly willing to pay and price for Cousins.

2. Update on veterans comes in Indy

If nothing else, the combine gives us pressers from all the head coaches and general managers, letting us know plenty about who might be available come March 14.

The Atlanta Falcons appear to be letting Dontari Poe walk after his season in the south. On the running back front, Matt Forte retired after a brilliant career while the Carolina Panthers are moving on from Jonathan Stewart. The Jets are also parting ways with former All-Pro defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson after seven seasons.

Conversely, the Oakland Raiders are planning to keep Michael Crabtree. Crabtree, 30, had a rough season in 2017 and could have been cut for a cap savings for $7.69 million. Instead, general manager Reggie McKenzie says he plans to hold onto Crabtree through the final year of his deal.

3. Seahawks have reason to make aggressive moves

On Thursday, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll took his turn speaking to the media, saying all of his players are available for trade offers. Of course, many teams say this, but the reality is far different. Unless they are overwhelmed, nobody of note will be on the move.

Seattle, however, is a unique spot. The Seahawks had reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons before missing in 2017. This offseason, they have a multitude of decisions to make on current stars including Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Paul Richardson, Sheldon Richardson and Jimmy Graham.

With $13 million in projected cap space, Seattle might make tough decisions and accept a tough year in 2018 for a brighter future. If that’s the case, expect a flurry of moves coming from the Emerald City in the coming weeks.

4. Mike Glennon should serve as cautionary tale

Last March, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace signed Mike Glennon to a three-year, $48 million deal. As of that moment, Glennon had started 18 games and none since 2015, all with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Incredibly, here’s a real quote about Glennon when Chicago signed him:

“I think he is definitely a starting quarterback in the NFL,” one head coach told the Tribune on Wednesday. “I’ve always thought Glennon was a similar player skill-wise to Matt Ryan. That’s my comparison. Now, Matt Ryan is a first-round pick who has started nine years. But I like this guy.”

Glennon started four games before being benched, ceding his job to Mitchell Trubisky. Now, Chicago is predictably releasing Glennon, getting four touchdowns and five interceptions for $18.5 million.

Some will say the gamble was worth the $4.5 million in dead money that Chicago incurs this season, but the point gets missed there.  In less than two weeks, teams will begin throwing money around frantically — especially at quarterbacks — hoping to strike gold.

Oftentimes, the teams that remain patient and seek out deals for the second tier are the ones who walk away both improved and cap-consensus.

5. Jim Kelly has another fight

Last week, it was announced that Jim Kelly has cancer in his jaw. This isn’t the first time Kelly has battle the deadly disease. In fact, it’s the third time.

Kelly, 58, continues to battle like the warrior he is. The Hall of Famer spoke only two days after his cancer diagnosis at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation ball. His story is both gut-wrentching and inspiring, watching a man overcome obstacles both on and off the field.

As a player, Kelly lost four consecutive Super Bowls. Much more importantly, the Pennsylvania native has endured unspeakable tragedy in his personal life, losing his only son, Hunter, at eight years old to Krabbe’s Disease. It’s been a tough road, but Kelly has always answered the bell.

Here’s to hoping he has another victory in him.

History lesson

There have been seven 2,000-yard rushing seasons in NFL history, but only took place prior to the 16-game schedule. O.J. Simpson was the first to break the barrier, doing so in a 14-game slate with the Buffalo Bills in 1973.

Incredibly, the feat was achieved in consecutive years in ’97 and ’98, when Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis broke through the threshold. Sanders has the highest yards per attempt of anybody in the club, going for 6.1 YPC.

Eric Dickerson holds the all-time record for rushing yards in a season, racking up 2,105 yards in 1984 with the Rams.

Parting shot

While the focus has been on which teams will get no quarterbacks in the coming months, there’s been a lack of thought on ones sticking with old hands.

The Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals could part ways with Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton, respectively, but are deciding to stand pat. The Jacksonville Jaguars decided to give Blake Bortles a two-year extension, hoping that he can lead them to the promised land. The New York Giants have been steadfast on retaining Eli Manning instead of trading him, a notion that was prominently floated after his benching in December.

We’ve also seen major money changing hands with Jimmy Garoppolo getting a deal worth $137.5 million from the San Francisco 49ers, all while Drew Brees waits for his payday with the New Orleans Saints. There’s also the rumor that Aaron Rodgers is closing in on an extension with the Green Bay Packers, a contract which will undoubtedly make him the highest-paid per-year player in league history.

With all those news items in mind, are those franchises making the right calls? The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. The Dolphins haven’t sniffed postseason success in 15 years. The Jaguars had to mostly hide Bortles to succeed, relying on a punishing defense and power run game.

In New York, keeping Manning as a mentor makes sense provided it drafts a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection. Otherwise, the plan is shortsighted. The Saints and 49ers are making the right decisions, especially with Garoppolo’s contract structure.

We are barely into March, and decisions on quarterbacks are already shaping the landscape.

 





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