INDIANAPOLIS—We’re here, and so is the 2022 offseason …
• The Kyler Murray situation may seem a little strange, but I wouldn’t say any part of it is unpredictable. Things were tenuous, in general, in Arizona in the days after the Cardinals’ wild-card round loss to the Rams—with coaches’ statuses left up in the air, an annual personnel meeting getting abruptly canceled, and that week wearing on with a sense of uncertainty around the football operation there.
Kliff Kingsbury and his staff survived, but it was pretty clear to everyone there that the owner wasn’t happy and 2022 is shaping up to be a critical year for a lot of people who work for him.
So, when Kyler Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, went to the team looking for an extension, and the Cardinals responded by kicking that can down the road, you’d understand how Murray might feel the same sort of uncertainty his coaches had after the Rams loss. Now, I don’t know if that’s why the quarterback scrubbed his social media pages of any Arizona markings soon thereafter, or if led to the ESPN report on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’d make sense if it was.
That brings us to the realities of the rookie salary system that was put in place in 2011, and the rule prohibiting teams from giving a drafted player an extension before the end of his third year in the league. In one way, it’s good for teams, preventing players coming for their money after Year 2, which used to be common and presented added risk. But in another, it’s not—because it draws a pay-me-or-don’t line in the sand early in a guy’s career.
From 2011-18, 26 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, and nine have gotten second contracts with their teams. Six got them after three years. Three got them after four years, but one was a Band-Aid extension that only lasted a year (Blake Bortles), and the other two went to quarterbacks who were very secure in their spots (Andrew Luck, Cam Newton) and were drafted in the first two years of the current system (i.e. a long time ago).
The trend, clearly, has been that if you’re sold on your first-round quarterback, you take care of him after Year 3, or things will get awkward. Murray’s ex-college teammate, Baker Mayfield, is one example of that. And it makes sense that Murray would’ve been watching when he saw Mayfield wait for a year to pursue a new deal, and then have it turn out that he was really waiting for nothing.
Which means Burkhardt’s message Monday should be interpreted as Murray underlining the aforementioned line in the sand. And now, the Cardinals either pay him or they don’t.
• There are a number of top guys (Derek Stingley, Evan Neal) who decided, in the wake of last week’s bubble situation, to pass on working out here at the combine. And there’s another piece to this that has a few others considering whether they want to do everything they intended to this week.
The reason why is changes to the schedule that’s increasingly being tailored to television.
Here’s what Thursday looks like for the quarterbacks …
10 a.m.: Measurements
11 a.m.: Bench press
5 p.m.: Vertical and broad jump
5:30 p.m.: 40-yard dash
6:30 p.m.: Skill drills
8 p.m.: 3-cone/shuttle
And here’s Saturday for one of the first defensive line group …
9 a.m.: Measurements
10 a.m.: Bench press
4 p.m.: 40-yard dash
4:30 p.m.: Skill drills
5:30 p.m.: Vertical jump
6 p.m.: Broad jump
6:30 p.m.: 3-cone/shuttle
For pretty much everyone, this is how it sets up. Where the bench and 40 used to be on different days, they’re now hours apart on the same day, which has raised concerns that players won’t be in the best position to perform in critical drills later in the day. I know at least one first-round prospect who’s now leaning toward skipping the bench after coming here planning on participating in everything, because he wants to be in the best spot he can be to run a good 40 and knock out his position work.
Of course, this is something that probably should’ve been addressed a long time ago with teams, players and agents. But here we are.
• This may be one of those years, like 2017 and 2019 were, where quarterback-needy teams punt on the entire class at the position with an eye on the year after. And that’s in part because, as NFL teams see it, it sure looks like Alabama’s Bryce Young will be ahead of where these guys are now in a year’s time, and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud might be, too.
“Yeah, those are the two,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said during out conversation for the morning column. “Spencer Rattler, does he bounce back going to South Carolina? I haven’t seen much of the Jake Haener kid from Fresno State, but people seem to like him. Jaren Hall from BYU has got some love. But those two [Young, Stroud] at the top seem like they would be No. 1 overall or top-five, top-10 worthy.
“They’re trending in that direction, let’s put it that way.”
If you don’t think anyone in this year’s group is in that category, then it does make sense to wait. And the teams that waited in 2019 could say it was the right move. Then again, there might be some regrets from those who did the same in 2017.
• One other leftover from McShay—and this will be on how every year is a great receiver year in the draft now. There isn’t a Ja’Marr Chase this year, but there is, again, a lot of really good players and depth that we detailed in the morning column. And that’s not a coincidence. Teams at every level of the sport are running wide-open offenses, kids are playing 7-on-7 in their offseason, and NFL economics are pushing the very elite, who might’ve played running back 20 or 30 years ago, out to receiver.
Maybe 20 years ago, Deebo Samuel is playing tailback. Today, he’s a receiver whom Kyle Shanahan can hand the ball to out of the I.
“One-hundred percent, I’m convinced. I really am,” McShay affirmed, when I raised this to him. “I’m talking about youth football, with seven-on-seven at that age, it used to be the star was the quarterback and the running back, and now it’s the receivers. The way things have spread out in so many more RPO offenses, it’s an extension of the run game, not to go cliche on you, but it really is.
“Like all the short throws and the screens and throws five yards from the line of scrimmage, just get the guy the ball, make the first guy miss, and it’s basically a run play.”
There’s a flip side to this too—you’ll notice that a lot of top corners to come into the league the last couple of years (Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain, Asante Samuel, Antwuan Molden, Elijah Molden, Stingley) have NFL fathers and NFL grandfathers. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, either. Because if you’re one of those dads, you’d have the wisdom to tell your kid, too, that there are a lot fewer athletes like him at corner than there are at receiver. Which, of course, paves a clearer path to big-time college football and, ultimately, the pros.
• I’d expect the overtime discussion to pick up tomorrow and Wednesday here in Indy with the competition committee meetings continuing here in Indy. The Colts’ proposal submitted to the committee would guarantee each team a possession in OT, with the game becoming sudden death if it remains tied after that.
The main argument against it right now is that football is a three-phase game—and the Bengals’ win in the AFC title game would back that one. Cincinnati leaned on defense (Jessie Bates’s pick), offense (driving deep into Chiefs’ territory) and special teams (Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal) to upset Kansas City at Arrowhead, a week after the Chiefs won their wild overtime shootout with the Bills.
I’ve said for a while now that I’d be for the idea of playing a full period, because that’s the best simulation of game conditions. And I do think there’ll be a few more ideas discussed here.
But in the end, it sure sounds like it might take another year or two before there is any real change to overtime. For a new overtime rule to pass, 24 of 32 teams would have to vote it through, and traditionally it’s been pretty difficult to get that level of consensus on a shift as significant as this one would be.
• I think new Giants assistant GM Brandon Brown gave the Eagles something to be proud of this week, with what he told his new team’s web site in an interview.
Here’s what he said, when asked what he’ll bring from his time in Philly: “Just being progressive. Pushing the needle. The biggest quote I like to use is ‘When everyone knows what we know, what we know is no longer important.’ You always want to be pushing the envelope forward and not be reactive to what’s going on. Whether it’s involving the scheme, whether it’s involving the player usage, whether it’s involving where to find players. That’s a process I put into practice in Philadelphia, football players come from every walk of life. That was shown through finding players in Canada, finding players who played rugby, finding players that came from small schools. It doesn’t matter. If you have the developmental mindset and the developmental physical traits, and you have the aptitude to learn, then it’s our job in terms of personnel and coaching and player development to get you onto the right onboarding process and that maximizes you as you’re going on in your role and eventually on game day.”
One way Philly’s done it, as we wrote about last month, has been through revamping and modernizing its medical process. Another is, as Brown said, looking under every rock for players—ex-Australian rugby star Jordan Mailata, now the team’s left tackle, is a great example of that, as is the fact that Philly was the first team to actually assign a scout to college basketball, in the search for the shorter-power-forward body types that might not quite fit the NBA, but are perfect for the NFL.
It was also reflected in making a hire like Kelly, nine years ago. Of course, no one bats 1.000 on these sorts of moves. Some will work. Some won’t. But the fact that the first thing that popped into Brown’s head from his former workplace was that the limits were always being pushed there is, to me, a pretty high compliment paid to what the Eagles have built.
• It’s absolutely apparent that fewer people are in attendance in Indy this year. In some cases, it’s about owners slashing budget after seeing how things worked under COVID restrictions the last couple of years. In others, it’s about teams believing they simply don’t need to send the armies of coaches and scouts they used to.
In the past, teams would send their personnel people and scouts for the entire week, and then have their offensive coaches here for the first four or five days, when guys on that side of the ball were here, and then defensive coaches here on the back end. This year, more than a few teams aren’t bringing coaches at all, and at least a couple have the scouts coming in shifts, with few people here for the full event.
I do get it. The workouts are on tape, interviews here are short and can be made up over Zoom, and what matters most, really, is the medical portion, which is for the doctors and trainers, not the coaches and scouts. Still, for a league that’s said publicly it needs to do a better job of networking its bright young coaches and scouts, having fewer people at what’s really the closest thing the NFL has to a convention is a blow.
Selfishly, I like there to be more people here. But I do think there’s a real functional value to it, too, for just about everyone involved. And one that has nothing to do with all the prospects descending on Indy the next few days.
• Someone has to explain to me like I’m 5 how supply-chain issues are preventing an NFL team for wearing throwback jersey in the fall. Do I understand how it’d prevent a full-scale roll out of the jerseys for Buccaneers fans looking for creamsicle jerseys? I do. But as far as outfitting a football team … I’m not sure how it is that Nike can’t make that work. It’s not like players on teams keeping the same uniform design are turning their jerseys back in at the end of the season and wearing them again next year like a high-school team.
• Green Bay in late April is a great place to be. So I’m all for the draft being there in 2024.
• That the NFL will have 10 teams playing in three foreign countries this year, with four playing in a stadium built to American football specifications in the U.K. that the NFL invested in, is a really good sign for the effort the league’s put in to globalize the game.
And, to me, that they’ll be in Germany is especially significant, given that kids there are actually playing the game. (Now, I just gotta get my bosses to send me there in the fall.)
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism