Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First . . . .
The Tennessee Titans have the top overall selection in the NFL draft and already have their franchise quarterback in place, having used the No. 2 choice last year on Marcus Mariota.
That will make for an interesting dynamic moving forward, as the draft-evaluation process intensifies this week with the NFL scouting combine taking place in Indianapolis.
Will the Titans stay put and sort through a list of top-pick possibilities that includes Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey? Or will Tennessee be able to find a quarterback-needy team willing and able to trade up, allowing the Titans to move down and stockpile additional draft choices for the rebuilding that must be done around Mariota?
“I’m sure they’d ideally like to move down a little bit, get a top guy at another position and get some extra picks,” said an executive with an NFL team that is not in the market for a quarterback or looking to trade up. “But that doesn’t always mean you can make it happen. Someone out there has to fall in love with one of the quarterbacks.”
The quarterbacks currently drawing the most attention as likely first-rounders are Jared Goff of California, Paxton Lynch of Memphis and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State. Are any of them promising enough to prompt a team to trade up for the No. 1 pick? That remains to be seen.
“I’m not sure what they’ll do with the pick,” said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, of the Titans. “I’m sure they’ll take what they feel is the best player. And they’ll certainly open it up to trades. The question is: Does anyone feel like they need to move up ahead of Cleveland to get the quarterback they want?”
The Browns have the second overall choice and presumably will be looking to draft a quarterback after their expected release of Johnny Manziel. The San Diego Chargers have the third pick and might be ready to add a successor-in-waiting for Philip Rivers. Ditto for the Dallas Cowboys with Tony Romo and the No. 4 selection.
Other teams that could be in the market for a quarterback include the San Francisco 49ers with the seventh pick, the Philadelphia Eagles at 13, the Los Angeles Rams at 15, the New York Jets (if they don’t re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick) at 20 and the Texans with the 22nd.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Titans will receive what they regard as a suitable trade offer for the top pick. If they stay put, they will have to decide which player gives them the maximum top-pick value. Marquee pass rushers and those who block them traditionally are regarded as being worthy of lofty draft choices.
Tunsil is seen by many draft observers as the best offensive tackle available. Teaming Tunsil with Taylor Lewan, taken with the 11th overall pick two years ago, potentially would give the Titans an effective pair of bookend tackles to safeguard Mariota for a decade or so. But would it be wise for a team with so many needs to use another prized pick on a player at that position?
Bosa appears to be the draft’s top pass rusher. The Denver Broncos just won a Super Bowl with their pass rush, so there’s no questioning the value of any player who can be productive in that area. But the issue is whether Bosa would fit into Tennessee’s defensive scheme. The Titans favor a three-linemen, four-linebacker alignment and some talent evaluators seem convinced that Bosa is better suited to being a 4-3 defensive end rather than a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Ramsey is a uniquely talented player with the ability to perhaps be a standout at either cornerback or safety. But would he make enough of an impact from either spot to be worth the No. 1 pick?
A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the top choice and the only question was whether they would go with Jameis Winston or Mariota. This year, there are many more moving parts when it comes to the No. 1 selection.
. . . and ten
1. Chargers’ choice
San Diego’s decision with the No. 3 pick is particularly intriguing.
Rivers is 34 and will be entering his 13th season. So does that mean it’s time to begin contemplating replacing him? Or time to help him by putting a better team around him?
Getting Rivers’s eventual replacement in place now would allow the young quarterback to sit and learn for a few seasons, as Rivers once did while waiting his turn behind Drew Brees.
But there also is the bigger picture to consider, with the Chargers vowing to remain in San Diego for the 2016 season but having the option to join the Rams in Los Angeles thereafter.
A successful season just might influence a few additional voters to support public financing for a new stadium in San Diego, potentially keeping the franchise there beyond next season. So should the Chargers take a win-now approach and get a player early in the draft who will help them immediately rather than adding a quarterback who will sit and learn?
There is much to consider indeed.
2. Cowboys’ decision
The Cowboys have a similar set of deliberations regarding Romo, although without the L.A. component to it.
Romo turns 36 in April. He remains a highly productive quarterback when healthy. But his twice-broken left clavicle ended the Cowboys’ hopes of repeating as NFC East champions this past season, and underscored their lack of a reliable backup. Romo also has had back issues.
Clearly the Cowboys must have a better alternative at quarterback to Romo next season than they did in 2015, when first Brandon Weeden and then Matt Cassel failed to keep them in the division race and finally Kellen Moore closed the season as the starter.
It once seemed possible that Manziel might land in Dallas after being released by the Browns. Now it appears increasingly likely that Manziel won’t have a job waiting for him with the Cowboys or anyone else, at least until his legal issues are clarified and he demonstrates an ability to get his life in order.
The Cowboys could pursue Robert Griffin III following his expected release by the Redskins. But if they don’t give Manziel another chance and don’t land Griffin, would they consider a quarterback with the No. 4 pick?
But while that might address their backup-quarterback problem, it would do little to give the Cowboys a better chance to reach a Super Bowl with Romo in the lineup.
3. No tag for Bradford?
It appears increasingly unlikely that the Eagles will use their franchise-player tag to keep quarterback Sam Bradford off the unrestricted free agent market.
It makes sense. Bradford was not the answer in Philadelphia this past season. So why would the Eagles be eager to tie up so much money and salary cap space into a one-year arrangement with him?
But if Bradford does hit the open market, he could find himself in demand. He wasn’t able to remain healthy and on the field while in St. Louis, and he never has fulfilled his promise as a former top overall selection in the NFL draft.
There are not enough good quarterbacks to go around, however. Far from it. Bradford could end up as the top quarterback option available, particularly if the Redskins re-sign Kirk Cousins or use their franchise-player designation on him and if Fitzpatrick remains with the Jets. The contract that Bradford lands could end up being surprisingly lucrative.
4. Eagles and Daniel
There is some speculation that if the Eagles don’t re-sign Bradford, they could turn to Kansas City Chiefs backup Chase Daniel as a possible quarterback option on the free agent market.
Eagles Coach Doug Pederson is familiar with Daniel, having just served as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City.
Some within the league believe that Daniel, 29, could be a viable starter. But there is little regular season evidence on which to base that belief. In seven NFL seasons in New Orleans and Kansas City, Daniel has made two starts and has thrown 77 regular season passes.
5. Player-discipline negotiations
The NFL and the NFL Players Association are making progress toward an agreement on revisions to the player-disciplinary system that likely would change Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in the appeals process, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
An accord appears within reach as the negotiations continue. But the timetable for completing a deal is unclear and if those close to the process know at this point what Goodell’s modified role will be, they’re not saying.
According to one person with knowledge of the proceedings, “slow progress” is being made in the talks. That person expressed doubt that a deal will be struck soon but added that the two sides probably “will get there eventually.”
Others connected to the process expressed similar sentiments, saying the negotiations are ongoing and moving toward a compromise but it’s not clear when a resolution might be reached.
The NFLPA is seeking neutral arbitration for appeals by players of discipline imposed by the league under the sport’s personal conduct policy and integrity-of-the-game rules. Currently, such appeals are heard and resolved by Goodell or a person appointed by him.
The union has made successful courtroom challenges of discipline imposed by the league on Adrian Peterson under the personal conduct policy and Tom Brady under the integrity-of-the-game rules. The NFLPA also points to running back Ray Rice’s suspension being overturned on appeal when Goodell appointed a former federal judge, Barbara S. Jones, to resolve that case.
Goodell has said he is willing to consider changes to the system of player discipline but is not willing to surrender his authority to resolve appeals to a third-party arbitrator.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in November that the league and union are having “the right conversations” toward a possible agreement on the issue. He said during Super Bowl week he was hopeful that a deal would be struck.
“We have had a number of conversations and those conversations are ongoing,” Smith said three days before the Super Bowl. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we can reach a resolution on a number of those issues. And I think sort of the frame continues to be the same. We believe that a collectively bargained change to the system is good for everyone.”
Goodell said the following day at his annual state-of-the-league address: “We’ll continue the dialogue. If we can find changes, if we can improve that process, we will do that.”
Players already have third-party arbitration for appeals of discipline under the sport’s drug policies and for illegal on-field hits.
The issue is about to become prominent again with the league’s appeal of the federal judge’s ruling that overturned the NFL’s four-game suspension of Brady, the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the New England Patriots, in the DeflateGate controversy.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is scheduled to hear the NFL’s appeal March 3. Goodell declined to say at the Super Bowl whether the league would reinstate Brady’s suspension if it prevails in the federal appeals court.
Eric Winston, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive tackle who is the union’s president, said at the Super Bowl it remained to be seen what the middle ground might be on the NFLPA’s insistence on third-party appeals and Goodell’s resistance to that.
“We’ll see,” Winston said then. “I guess at the end of the day that’s where the compromise comes from. We’ll see what happens. Obviously it seems very straightforward. But when you get into the idea of when you start talking about the initial investigation, when you start talking about the initial punishment to the appeal, there’s a lot of layers of the onion to peel back there.
“And so as we know in collective bargaining you’re not going to get everything you want. But I think both parties understand that there’s some issues to be fixed and hopefully we can get to a point where it’s official and we actually end the thing.”
6. Goodell’s pay
Last week’s revelation that Goodell had an income of about $34.1 million in 2014 came via the public disclosure of the NFL’s tax filing.
Such information needn’t be made public by the league in the future, however, given that the NFL last year changed its tax status.
Goodell’s income was down slightly from the $35 million that he made in 2013 and the $44 million that he made in 2012.
7. Replay proposals
Individual NFL teams proposed a series of changes last year to the instant replay system. But those proposals were not endorsed by the competition committee and the owners made no significant changes to the replay system during the annual league meeting last spring.
It’s not clear if teams will make similar proposals this year, after a 2015 season in which the officiating was such an issue. Goodell has vowed that the league will do all that it can to make the officiating better and more consistent. The competition committee, however, has made it clear in the past that it is not in favor of making judgment calls by officials subject to instant-replay review.
Goodell’s proposal that a player be automatically ejected for being penalized for two personal fouls in the same game also could have replay ramifications. Would such a rule change necessitate making personal fouls subject to replay review? Otherwise, the new rule would bring the risk of a player being ejected on an erroneous call.
8. Scarnecchia’s return
No one should overlook the Patriots’ rehiring of Dante Scarnecchia as their offensive line coach.
Offensive line woes were the Patriots’ undoing this past season. Injuries forced them to piece together lineups on their offensive line for much of the season. The patchwork line could not protect Brady in the second half of the regular season, and it could not keep the Broncos’ pass rushers from hitting Brady constantly during the AFC title game. The Patriots did not renew the contract of offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo following the season.
Perhaps there was nothing that Scarnecchia or anyone else could have done to make things work this season. Maybe the injuries simply were too much. But Scarnecchia was a brilliant offensive line coach for the Patriots for 15 years before retiring following the 2013 season. If he can get things to work along the offensive line next season, there’s no reason that the Patriots cannot return to the top of the AFC.
9. Manning timetable
There has been plenty of talk since the Super Bowl about Peyton Manning, but little of it has related to Manning’s pending retirement decision.
That will come back to the forefront soon enough, though.
The Broncos do not appear to be pressing Manning for a decision. But his $19 million salary for next season becomes fully guaranteed March 9. So that makes for an unofficial deadline.
If Manning opts to retire, he would join Charles Woodson and perhaps Calvin Johnson in stepping away from the sport this offseason. Johnson and his team, the Detroit Lions, have said he is considering retiring.
It would make for an interesting set of future Hall of Fame deliberations.
Manning and Woodson are almost-certain first-ballot Hall of Famers. Johnson’s Hall of Fame candidacy is less so. He clearly has been among the top wide receivers of his generation. But the Lions usually have been an afterthought during his career, and he ranks only 27th on the NFL’s list of career leaders in receiving yards.
That puts him 25 spots behind Terrell Owens, who was not elected this year in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.