One half of the NFL Combine in Indianapolis is all about showcasing the top prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft. The other half is a constant conduit of offseason league news and rumors, with most coaches and general managers being available to the media, both officially and unofficially.
But with the nonstop blitz from the podiums and beyond, it’s difficult to discern the real information from the useless misinformation. Sporting News is here to help with the key takeaways from what has been said and heard:
Joe Burrow is officially fine with the Bengals — he has to be
Burrow said he’ll play wherever for whoever picks him. Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor played the “we’re keeping all our options open” card. That’s not exactly a show of mutual love, but there doesn’t need to be: Neither Burrow nor the Bengals have any reasonable alternatives.
Several teams other than the Bengals need to draft a franchise quarterback, but it will be hard to find a team willing to give up the multiple necessary assets for the first shot at Burrow, especially when there are three more quarterbacks with big upside to take a little later.
Tua Tagovailoa is becoming less risk, higher reward by the day
Case in point: Tua Tagovailoa, who is looking like he can go as high as No. 3 overall (behind Burrow and Chase Young) to either the Lions or a trading-up team.
Current health and future durability risks are the only factors limiting Tagovailoa from being 1A with Burrow. His strong rehab and steadily positive medicals keep suggesting that may be a non-issue come April, by which time he should be about a month into being 100 percent. His personal pro day is tabbed for April 9.
Cam Newton still doesn’t have the Panthers’ commitment
Rookie coach Matt Rhule dropped an “absolutely” when discussing whether he wants Newton as his quarterback in 2020, but that was followed several times over with the Carolina caveat of, “if healthy.” Newton at the same time took to Instagram with the message, “All I want is a little commitment.”
Newton wants definitive, but Carolina is still wisely going with the conditional. Rhule said what any coach would say about someone who has a chance to stay. But in the end, the decision may be out of his hands. With the No. 7 overall pick, it’s good to leave a mystery of quarterback or not quarterback. If there’s any doubt about Newton, the Panthers still should land on the side of moving on, with a chance to save $19.1 million under the salary cap for a rebuilding team.
Derek Carr doesn’t have the Raiders’ endorsement
Mike Mayock started with, “I’m very happy with Derek,” but quickly couched it with, “If there’s a chance to upgrade, we will look into that.” The media-savvy general manager was one of the most insightful and honest speakers on Tuesday. It has leaked, pretty heavily, that the Raiders are interested in Tom Brady and have an eye on multiple quarterbacks in the draft.
Mayock is right in that Carr is highly dependable, but that doesn’t mean he or coach Jon Gruden think he’s the best option to deliver a playoff-caliber team in Las Vegas.
Cowboys may be stuck franchise-tagging Dak Prescott
Stephen Jones, Cowboys director of player personnel, added to Dallas’ transparency on the Prescott contract negotiations, saying they haven’t taken place in a while. At the same time, Jones confirmed Prescott isn’t going anywhere. That screams that the Cowboys will end up putting the exclusive tag on him, valued at about $33 million for 2020.
The problem is, should the new CBA go into effect before March 12, the Cowboys will no longer have the option to transition-tag receiver Amari Cooper, increasing the chances of him hitting the open market.
Prescott should be OK getting franchised: The $33 million isn’t far off from Russell Wilson’s $35 million-per-year deal a season ago, and it buys his side time to see what kind of deal Patrick Mahomes gets to reset the quarterback market. That creates potentially higher parameters for Prescott’s ultimate long-term contract.
Titans aren’t planning to overspend on Ryan Tannehill
General manager Jon Robinson didn’t seem too excited about keeping a quarterback whose career-best second half of the 2019 season earned comeback player of the year honors and, more importantly, helped push the Titans deep into the AFC playoffs.
“We’ll see how it goes. He’s under contract here for the next few weeks,” Robinson told reporters. “He did a great job for us. We’ll start those talks and see kind of where those go, just like all the other players.”
Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel are cut from the Patriots cloth: less sentimental and more practical. They will be looking for the best-value solution at quarterback, which may or may not include Brady. The Titans need to be careful with Tannehill given his limited sample size, the fact his success was a play-action extension of an elite running game and the fact he will turn 32 in July.
Giants are positioned to dominate another draft
Dave Gettleman has an interesting way with words, and doesn’t mince them. The Giants general manager strongly suggested everything is on the table with the No. 4 overall draft pick. When it comes to key personnel decisions, he continues to add animalistic phrases to his New Jersey vernacular — this time talking about his “thick rhino hide.”
But the bottom line is Gettleman needs more credit for being shrewd vs. folksy. New York is coming off a strong 2019 draft haul — from Daniel Jones through Ryan Connelly and Darius Slayton — with a lot of flexibility. That includes more than $60 million in cap space. Look for the Giants to work the board to accelerate the next stage of their rebuild.
Antonio Brown isn’t returning to the NFL
Mayock slammed the door on Brown potentially returning to the Raiders, adding that the mercurial wide receiver’s “time is up.” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert shared that sentiment, saying Pittsburgh is as closed off as Las Vegas to Brown: “We’re worried about Antonio Brown as a person,” Colbert told NFL Network. “He will always be a Steeler in that regard, but in that regard only.”
It’s one thing when the Raiders — who had a bad experience with Brown — throw that down. It’s another when the team that got the best out of Brown on the field is only thinking about him off the field. Brown’s risk has reached the point that it far outweighs his reward.
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Stefon Diggs will be returning to the Vikings
The Diggs trade rumors started swirling last week when he got cryptic by removing team references on Instagram. But they made little sense otherwise. Rick Spielman, in true general manager speak. said this: “There is no reason to anticipate that Stefon Diggs is not going to be a Minnesota Viking.”
Sure, some team could give up a first-round pick and more to try to wrest Diggs away. But the Vikings, with little behind him and Adam Thielen at wide receiver, kind of need him in 2020 to be a stronger offensive-leaning playoff team with Kirk Cousins. With the $14.5 million Diggs is making, it would cost them a lot to trade him ($9 million in dead money). That’s also not a smart move with a league-low in cap space: under $1.5 million.
Texans put more trust in Deshaun Watson
Coach Bill O’Brien’s decision to relinquish play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Tim Kelly speaks volumes to Watson making the transition from promising young franchise passer to established, near-elite veteran. O’Brien has liked what he has seen from the Kelly-Watson partnership, and can feel totally comfortable about what his quarterback does both on and off script — enough to no longer control the down-to-down details.
Eagles need to be all in on a wide receiver early
The breakup between the team and Alshon Jeffery seems more inevitable now. Pending free agent Nelson Agholor is clearly already out the door. The Eagles’ cornerback situation is more viable than it was during the mess early last season, and they already drafted their contingency for aging left tackle Jason Peters in first-rounder Andre Dillard last year.
The No. 21 pick in the draft is prime to dive into an excellent second tier of wide receivers, led by Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III and Clemson’s Tee Higgins. But there’s also more reason to believe a trade up for either Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb should be considered: Either could be the missing piece for than offense to get back into Super Bowl contention.
Broncos are looking only for a more willing backup
John Elway confirmed that second-year second-round Drew Lock has the starting job nailed down after a strong finish to his rookie season. At the same time, the Broncos GM said the team is “exploring all options” behind him. That means Joe Flacco won’t be that No. 2. The 35-year-old is coming off a worrisome neck injury, and we know from his time with Baltimore and Denver that he isn’t a fan of mentoring on the sideline.
Denver has more than $70 million in cap space, so cutting Flacco — and trading $13.6 million in dead money for $10.05 million in cap relief — is a more viable option for the Broncos. The Broncos can then afford to invest more on an athletic veteran who can do well in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Marcus Mariota’s mental makeup fits perfectly in that role.
Falcons will be big sellers in free agency
The Falcons have about only $4 million left under the salary cap, third-least in the NFL. That’s why they already seem defeated, knowing venerable running back Devonta Freeman likely will need to be cut. Any chance to re-sign tight end Austin Hooper and outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell seem lost as well. The pressure is on for Atlanta to either have a great draft across several positions or fade further in the NFC South.
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