FMIA, NFL Scouting Combine: Thirty Bits of Buzz From the Scene in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — Four days in hallways, bars, restaurants, hotel rooms, hotel lobbies, Lucas Oil Stadium (and did I mention bars?) at the NFL Convention, also known as the NFL Scouting Combine, yielded 30 tidbits. Topics include:

• The most impressive player in Indy
• The best quote of the combine
• Three guys who caught Gil Brandt’s eye
• A tick-tock of one day in Indy, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
• The most informed person on Tom Brady situation
• The QB one respected NFL mind ranks second behind Joe Burrow, and it’s not Tua
• The zaniest idea of the week involves a veteran QB

In no particular order . . .

The Lead: 30 Indy Items

1. Something’s happening here. Two GMs did not want to shake my hand here. They substituted fist-bumps. “Corona,” one said Friday morning, the Coronavirus on his mind. “Just being careful.”

2. Brady, Brady, Brady. “Tom Brady,” one well-connected NFL exec told me, “is the one domino paralyzing the entire NFL right now.” That’s because of the realization among teams here that Brady actually might leave New England. Before this past week, I’d say most people in the league thought Brady might flirt with other teams but eventually finish where he started and where he belongs. But by week’s end, there was rising informed speculation the Raiders, Chargers, Colts and Titans (though that cause would be hurt if Derrick Henry leaves in free agency) could be in play for Brady.

3. Listen to Jeff Darlington. The ESPN NFL reporter is tight with the Brady camp. He’s not nipping-on-the-fringes tight; he’s legitimate inside-the-circle tight. I’ve seen it. So when Darlington says he’d be stunned if Brady returned to the Patriots, I pay attention. I’m not sure I would say the same, but I definitely take notice. I notice because of the kind of person Tom Brady is.

When Jerome Bettis turned down a shot to go to Miami late in his career, and when Dan Marino turned down a chance to play a final season in Minnesota, part of the reasoning by both men was their affection for their long-time teams—Steelers and Dolphins respectively—and their business futures in both of their long-time cities. I think Brady’s different. He loves New England. He loves this team. But I think Brady is more open to new experiences, and more welcoming of them, than many players might be.

As Darlington told me late Friday: “Everybody wants to make this about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their relationship, and to some extent, that dynamic is part of it. But I also think this is about exploring a new challenge—about reinvigorating himself. I also think it’s as much about the overall experience as it is about just trying to win another ring.”

I still think there’s a Brady-Belichick summit before anything gets decided with finality. But whatever happens, remember the “reinvigorating himself” thing from Darlington. It’s important.

4. Anonymous quote of the combine. From an agent with vet quarterbacks in the mix, when I said I had no idea how this QB game of musical chairs will end up: “The problem is, there’s way more quarterbacks than chairs.” I can see that.

My prediction: Five quarterbacks will be immensely pissed off a month from today, with a depressed market value for their services. Or no market value.

5. Fruitless Endeavor of the Week. Where will everyone land? I kept asking people here about the fate of Jameis Winston, and I couldn’t find a landing spot for him. I doubt sincerely he’d be a starter on opening day 2020 if he leaves Tampa (which is likely), but where would/could he be a backup? Let’s guess at other outcomes.

If you put Burrow in Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, and Justin Herbert or Jordan Love in a draft-and-develop situation with the Chargers—and I have no idea if that last one is true—where does that leave the vets? Brady in Las Vegas or Tennessee? Teddy Bridgewater in Tampa Bay? Philip Rivers or one of the rookies in Indianapolis? Andy Dalton as an insurance policy (that might have to be cashed in October) in Chicago? Cam Newton in Carolina? What of New England, if Brady goes—maybe wait till the market dries up and get a Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota cheap, while grooming favored son Jarrett Stidham? Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee? What about Washington’s backup plans (strangely, the team interviewed at least three QBs at the combine) for Dwayne Haskins, if club execs fear Alex Smith might not be ready to play in September? Without chairs, maybe: Carr, Winston, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum. (I’d go hard after Keenum if I were Buffalo or Cleveland.)

One of my favorite X factors is Foles, assuming, as many in combine hallways believe, that the Jaguars go with Gardner Minshew. Foles is 31, a Super Bowl MVP, a great team guy, a pocket guy in need of a good offensive line and outside weapons. The more I think of Foles, and the more I think of a landing spot if he’s not a Jag, I think I might be able to talk myself into the Colts. Makes a lot of sense, especially behind that line, and especially with how much help he’d be to Jacoby Brissett.

6. Strange Sight of the Week. In the Indiana Convention Center, where coaches and scouts and players and media trod through wide, high-ceilinged hallways during the day early in the week, there was an odd sight Wednesday night around 9:30: Justin Herbert, the Oregon quarterback, throwing passes to his QB coach, former NFL quarterback John Beck, inside one of those giant convention center rooms being set up for a future trade show. As Herbert threw, a security person walked up and said, “Are you guys here for that NFL thing?” Yes. Yes they were. And with shipping crates and forklifts prepping the room for the next trade show, Hebert got in his 40 to 50 throws. “It’s really weird,” Herbert said. “You show up on Sunday, stay to Friday, and you’re pretty busy the whole time. I just really wanted to throw.” And he did.

7. Three questions with Justin Herbert. Back in Orange County on Sunday, in a training break before his March 12 Pro Day at Oregon, Herbert—born in Eugene, Ore., raised in Eugene, and an Academic All-American in Eugene as a collegian—talked about his combine experience and life outside his Eugene bubble:

FMIA: So you’re a Eugene kid and stayed home for college. It was sort of a test for you, going outside your comfort zone to the Senior Bowl and now here to the combine. What’s that been like?

Herbert: “That is a really good way of looking at it. I have never lived outside of Eugene. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to the Senior Bowl. I wanted to be challenged. I felt really comfortable with that week. I loved it. Plus, I learned a bunch, got to know a lot of guys I didn’t know, got to play with a lot of really talented players . . . The combine, it was really busy, but I had a lot of fun. Great life experience. Not a lot of people get to go through something like that, and I just tried to enjoy the experience as much I could.”

FMIA: You’re pretty well known as an intelligent guy. What do you attribute that to, and what’s the college experience that challenged you the most?

Herbert: “I don’t think I’m naturally very smart. For a while in school, I didn’t try as hard as I could. My older brother, Mitchell, did all these great things academically and I looked at him and got more motivated. He just got accepted to Vanderbilt Medical School. One of the classes I took my sophomore year at Oregon, the Biology of Organisms, had a reputation on campus for being really tough. It was tough. But I got an A, then I got offered a TA position the next term and took it. I helped the students in the class, had office hours. That was a great experience.”

FMIA: Who’d you meet at the combine who was impressive, or who you really wanted to meet?

Herbert: “Coach McDaniels with the Patriots. [Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.] That’s a guy I’ve always watched, always looked up to. I love their offense.”

8. On Joe Burrow. He met with a Bengals delegation Wednesday night, one of his official meetings here. Though he said he would play for the team that drafts him, I still get the feeling he wants to see more devotion to winning than the Bengals have shown. Cincinnati is 8-24 in the last two years; the Bengals’ last playoff win was 30 years ago.

Burrow made it clear here he wants the team to sign free-agent wide receiver A.J. Green. ESPN reported Sunday that Green was likely to be franchise-tagged, which is good and bad. Good, in that Burrow will have him when the games start. Bad, in that it’s possible Green, without the financial security of a long-term deal, won’t be motivated to work with Burrow in the offseason. But what is the market value of a very good receiver who is always hurt anyway? Since turning 30, Green has missed 23 of 32 games with injuries. If Cincinnati sheds Andy Dalton’s $17.1-million salary this spring (likely), they’d have $62 million to spend on veteran players—their own and other free agents. If I were Burrow, I’d be most concerned with the offensive line, which was Pro Football Focus’ 28th-best pass-blocking line last year and allowed 38 sacks, the most attributed to linemen for any team.

Regarding the development of Burrow: The Bengals coaching staff just lost quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt to Cleveland as coordinator—he’s a respected coach—and now Burrow’s three mentors will be thirty-something coaches still very much in prove-it mode: coach Zac Taylor, coordinator Brian Callahan, QB coach Dan Pitcher. I’ve heard very good things about the meticulous and precise Pitcher, but we shall see. Still, Burrow’s a coach’s son. He’ll likely be all-in when the Bengals make him the first pick.

NFL Scouting combine buzz
Left to right: Ex-NFL QB Chad Pennington; NFL draft QB prospects Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow and Jacob Eason. (Getty Images)

9. Sounds-Zany-But-Isn’t Idea of the Week: If I’m Zac Taylor, I’d push to sign Josh McCown as my backup, while keeping Ryan Finley to develop. McCown turns 41 in July, and he wouldn’t be signing to play, but rather to be the kind of selfless every-day on-and-off-field mentor he’s been for Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Johnny Manziel (win some, lose some) in the last six years. Even if McCown wants the same deal he had last year in Philadelphia—Friday nights free so he could coach his sons Owen and Aiden in high school—that shouldn’t stand in the way of a smart idea. Burrow would love McCown.

10. The most impressive player of the week was . . . Clemson safety/linebacker/slot corner Isaiah Simmons, who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 238 pounds, and already was a slam-dunk top-10 pick in the draft.

Let’s put the 4.39-second time in some perspective. Simmons will be asked to cover tight ends or backs, mostly, when he covers in the NFL; maybe he’ll shadow some wideouts in the slot. Occasionally. There were 45 wide receivers who ran at the combine. Four were faster than Simmons. Two tied his 40- time. And 39 were slower. In perhaps the best year ever for wide receivers in the draft, a hybrid back-seven player performed faster than 39 of the 45 stallions at wideout. Plus: Compared to all tight ends at the combine, only one was within a quarter-second of Simmons’ speed.

Simmons did a good job in the interview process too. “The game is evolving,” he said to the media during the week. “The name of the game now is stopping tight ends. Something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there.” I like Simmons’ chances to do so. And more. If he goes three overall—to Detroit or anyone trading up for him—it will be totally justified.

11. And the most impressive video was . . . NFL Network does these “simulcam” comparisons of one guy’s 40 with players from the past, and the one with Simmons showed him erasing people like Jalen Ramsey, Derwin James, Christian McCaffery, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Pretty excellent.

12. Step into room 627 at the Indianapolis Marriott with me. Gil Brandt’s room. The Hall of Fame personnel/combine/NFL media/know-it-all turns 87 on Wednesday. He uses a cane now and walks a little slower, but at his 41st Combine, I continued the tradition of Gimme your three guys, Gil. “Who are your guys this year, Gil?” I asked when we sat down in his room. “Who do you love?” There were notes on the bed, on the desk, on the night table, and he gathered up a few things and gave me his three guys:

• Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn. “Love him. Great player. Mom works at Kmart, dad’s a jailer. Got asked why he stayed in school this past year. ‘My mom asked me to get my degree.’ Got asked why he played in the Auburn bowl game when so many top prospects sit ‘em out. ‘I was elected captain. I wasn’t gonna desert my guys.’ He’s got the physical ability and character to go a long way.” Projected to be a top 10 pick.

• Isaiah Coulter, wide receiver, Rhode Island. “He’s a guy we’re gonna be asking about a year from now, ‘Where’d he come from? Why’d we miss on him?’ He’s 6-1 7/8, big receiver. Plays big. Can run under 4.4. [Official combine time: 4.45.] I like these guys who come from a school like Rhode Island with something to prove. Don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he could be [D.K.] Metcalf of this draft.” In an all-time draft for receivers, Coulter is projected to be a mid-round pick.

• Jonathan Taylor, running back, Wisconsin. Ran the fastest 40 of any back in Indy, 4.39 seconds. NFL teams seem almost inclined to not like him because he carried the ball an exhausting 926 times in three bruising college seasons in the Big Ten. But he grew on people here. Brandt: “Teams say he might have carried it too much in college. I don’t know about that. I see a guy who can be a dominant player. Frank Gore’s carried it a lot too. He’s still playing. Taylor’s a great player. Runs hard.” Projected to be picked in the top two rounds.

13. One other Gil-ism. He likes Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow, and though worried about Tagovailoa’s health, he sounded like he likes Tua’s upside more. Called Burrow “Steady Eddie.” Compared him to Danny White—which he thinks is a great compliment. Not sure Bengals fans would. And this on Justin Herbert: “Huge upside. He’s got an Al Davis arm. Al would love him.”

14. On Andrew Luck. Seemed appropriate to ask folks in Indiana the question football fans in the other 49 states all have about the football team in Indiana: Think Andrew Luck’s ever coming back? Did not hear one speck of evidence here to suggest he is. I asked the excellent Indiana-centric columnist for The Athletic, Bob Kravitz. He said he’s heard nothing about Luck and football, at all. Kravitz: “Everybody defines happiness differently. For most of us red-blooded Americans, I think fame, fortune, athletic superstardom is the pinnacle of all desires. But for some people, that’s not what they want. They want a different kind of life.” That’s the life Luck, presumably, is living in relative seclusion these days.

NFL Scouting combine buzz
NFL draft defensive lineman prospect Marlon Davidson. (Getty Images)

15. Quote of the Combine, Players Division. Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson, on what he likes about the sport of football: “What I love most about the game is that—this is true now, okay, this is true—I love that I can literally go out there and hit a man consistently and pound him, and the police [don’t] come. That is the most enjoyable moment about ball, to just go out there and really abuse somebody, and they won’t say nothing about it in the press or anything. I ain’t in no headlines, in handcuffs, no mugshots, no nothing. I’m out here just physically abusing my man.”

16. Quote of the Combine, Coaches Division. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, on annual combine stars, the seducers who get GMs fired: “The tape don’t lie. The combine lies. You can fall in love at the combine and get your ass broke.” Teams are doing less and less of the falling-in-love thing, though combine lovers do their best to make this long week more important than it really is.

A Day Of Combine Life


17. Come with me. This is what my Thursday was like, with some people named, some not:

7:40 a.m.: Breakfast with a plugged-in team exec at Patachou, the breakfast spot of choice in downtown Indy. Gotta get there before 8 if you want a table in combine week.

9:05 a.m.: Chat with, then record podcast conversation with, Panthers coach Matt Rhule in conference room at Indianapolis Marriott.

9:40 a.m.: Discuss the business and the job with USA Today NFL writer Jori Epstein in the Marriott lobby. I enjoy meeting and exchanging ideas with new NFL scribes who have impressed me.

10:40 a.m.: On a walk from the Marriott to the JW Marriott, I run into and chat with ex-GM Mike Tannenbaum, Justin Herbert, QB coach John Beck, buddy Mike Sando of The Athletic, GM Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons, two trusted team PR people (talking about future column ideas). Bemoan the fact that the Starbucks at the nexus of the universe, the entryway to the Skywalk from the JW, is under construction. Starbucks is losing by my calculation $6.9 billion this week by the closure of this location. Mention this to fellow who looks like Uncle Leo doing some construction work at this Starbucks. “Lots of Starbucks in town,” Uncle Leo, who is not an Adonis, says. Just not here.

11:35 a.m.: Record a bit for a future podcast with PFF founder Neil Hornsby outside a meeting room at the JW Marriott.

11:50 a.m.: Chat with, then record podcast conversation with, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski in a meeting room at the Marriott. Walk through skywalk to the Convention Center. (Indy has a great system of skywalks, which comes in handy when it’s snowing sideways outside, as happens at every combine.)

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and NBC’s Peter King. (Peter John-Baptiste/Cleveland Browns)

12:40 p.m.: Run into longtime acquaintance. Start talking about collective bargaining agreement. Said person offers to share document with full terms of CBA. Gotta love the combine. I say yes. Comes in very handy in coming days.

1:15 p.m.: In Convention Center, where all combine traffic comes to a crossroads, interview Jordan Palmer, the QB coach for Joe Burrow, on a bench with the world walking by. Then, look longingly at tail-wagging lab working the combine for the local police. Look, but don’t touch; DO NOT PET, the warning on the dog says. “A photo?” I ask one of the handlers. Stern “no.”

1:55 p.m.: Discuss Hall of Fame business with fellow voter Jim Trotter of NFL Media.

2:10 p.m.: Appear with Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network pre-combine show. Am brilliant, but not so well-dressed, in a UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO sweatshirt.

2:35 p.m.: Meet Adam Schefter back at Marriott. Record snippet for future podcast. We run into Gil Brandt, lobby-sitting and gossip-gathering at the Marriott, and Gil must have a photo. Gil likes to tweet.

3:05 p.m.: Spend 35 minutes chatting team executive at The Conrad. The NFL divvies up teams in the downtown hotels. The teams at The Conrad are very fortunate. Nice wine bar on one side of the lobby, Cap Grille on the other side.

3:50 p.m.: Need a place to write for a while, and to eat. Duck into the Italian chain, Buca di Beppo, and put a small dent into the spaghetti and meatball (singular) and get a few hundred words tapped out.

6:25 p.m.: Gather in Convention Center for walk to Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the first half of the QBs and WRs throw and catch. There actually is football to see in combine week! A group of media sits in a suite upstairs at the stadium and watches Kelly Bryant, Kevin Davidson (the Princeton kid), Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, Anthony Gordon, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts and Brian Lewerke throw to receivers in the first half of the alphabet. Bummer for us. Jordan Love, the interesting prospect from Utah State, was the cutoff, the first player in the second group instead of the last name in the first group. Joe Burrow’s in the group too, but he’s not throwing—he’s just hanging out. Seems to be buddy-buddy with Fromm. The idea: to watch a new crop of future pro guys throw and catch; I’d never seen these guys throw/catch in person. Hurts has an impressive session.

8:40 p.m.: The PFF guys asked me to come over to Tin Roof, a bar near the Pacers’ home court, to be on their live show from the combine. Steve Palazzolo and George Chahrouri, good hosts, help me make it out without embarrassing myself too much.

10:20 p.m.: Have a drink at the Omni Severin bar with an old friend from Sports Illustrated, Todd Rosenberg, one of the best photographers I’ve ever worked with. He shoots the combine now for the NFL.

11:15 p.m.: The younger me (maybe the earlier-in-the-week me) would have moseyed over to one of the busier bars to catch the late-arriving coaches after the evening workouts, and I really want to. But there’s a 7:15 a.m. breakfast looming. I sleep.

Combine, Continued

18. Playing hurt, TV Division. NBC’s Chris Simms felt pretty sick when he got to the set of the PFT Live TV show on NBC Sports Network on Wednesday before 7 a.m. And during the show, with host Mike Florio in a segment about quarterback situations in the league, raised his right hand to Florio, rose from his chair, grabbed the garbage can beneath the set, walked offset and with Florio continuing the segment alone, Simms vomited like he was auditioning for The Exorcist. “A waterfall of liquid came out,” Simms confessed Saturday. “I was as sick as I’ve been in a long time, throwing up every 45 minutes about 12 hours. Just started feeling normal last night.”

19. Hand-size idiocy. Joe Burrow has 9-inch hands, which became a story for half a day. He believes he has 9 1/4-inch hands, as measured at college, but the measure at the combine is the one of record. So, in 2019, Burrow totaled 642 passes and runs at LSU. He lost one fumble in those 15 games. Patrick Mahomes (9 ¼-inch hands) lost four fumbles in 663 touches last season on the way to winning the Super Bowl. The season before, Tom Brady (9 3/8-inch hands) lost five fumbles in 726 touches. If you hear anyone in the NFL, or any media person, discussing the factor of hand size in determining where Burrow should be drafted, remind them of this: Cody Kessler has 10 7/8-inch hands. Jim Druckenmiller (Google him, football fans) measured at 11 1/4.

20. Assorted things I heard in my 66 hours here:

• Cowboys and Titans might not be rooting for the CBA to pass. New CBA would allow teams to use only one tag per year. Old CBA would allow two tags per team, meaning Dallas could lock up Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, Tennessee Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill.

Titans running back Derrick Henry. (Getty Images)

• Lots of pass-rush-needy teams asking about Jadeveon Clowney, worried about his inconsistency and injury history.

• I would expect the Ravens to consider tagging-and-trading Matthew Judon. Ravens’ history is to let productive linebackers go either for a good pick or compensatory pick.

• Highest-paid interior lineman in free agency? I hear New England’s Joe Thuney could be a $15-million-a-year player.

• Teddy Bridgewater market is warming up.

• After Jack Conklin, the tackle market caves, unless Trent Williams is dealt by Washington. Next might be 26-year-old Halapoulivaati Vaitai of the Eagles, who has allowed a respectable six sacks in 810 snaps over the last two years.

• Heard two smart football people say they’d take Tua Tagovailoa at three if they were Detroit, let him get fully healthy in 2020, then figure out the QB situation after next season, when, presumably, there’d be a robust market for either Tua or Matthew Stafford.

• Amazing, to me, that three coaches and one GM said they didn’t mind the new work rules with the new CBA if it passes—namely, cutting the number of padded practices from 28 to 16 in camp and giving players more time off in and out of season. “Tell me what the rules are, and if they’re the same for everyone, I’m fine,” said one playoff coach.

21. Toughest TV schedule in years. Imagine being on NFL schedulemeister Howard Katz’s four-person team that puts the schedule together every year. You’re six weeks from having to release the slate, and you don’t know if you should have the Patriots slated for five national dates or three because of the Tom Brady thing, and because you don’t know the Brady whereabouts, you don’t know if the Titans or Raiders or Chargers or Colts should max out on national dates . . . or if maybe they should have two or three. You have the regular unknowns of the season—about the Rams bouncing back, about the fate of the Steelers, about who will end up with the franchise QBs in this draft—but this year just seems harder to forecast because of the free-agent dominoes, none of which will fall for at least 17 days. As an exec for one of those teams I’ve just mentioned told me here: “How do you create a prime-time schedule not knowing who half the quarterbacks will be?”

22. My best guess at the early slate. The NFL’s five-year streak of the Super Bowl champ opening the season with a Thursday night home game got broken last year when, as an homage to pro football’s 100th season, ancient rivals Green Bay and Chicago opened the year; Super Bowl champ New England played on Sunday night. This year, there’s a bit of an issue with the Chiefs opening the season at home at 7:20 p.m. CT on Thursday, Sept. 10: The cross-parking-lot Royals are slated to play that afternoon at 12:35. Maybe the game could be moved up 90 minutes, or maybe it could be part of a doubleheader on any of the three previous days of the series, and then the Chiefs could host the opener against, say, the Raiders or Texans.

That would leave Sunday night for the opening of the new jewel of the league: SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. I’d expect the Rams to open at home in Week 1 and the co-tenant Chargers opening at home in Week 2 or 3. If it’s the Rams in Week 1, imagine Cowboys-Rams on Sunday night, with the glitterati schmoozing with Roger Goodell and Al Michaels and LeBron James pre-game.

23. An interesting schedule wrinkle. Because the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have two inductions of 10 men apiece—the traditional one, with modern-era inductees in August, and the Centennial Class of 10 players on Sept. 18—there is some thought about playing a Week 2 Thursday night game (Sept. 17) to help kick off the Centennial Class weekend. It seems logical to me that Cleveland, 50 minutes north of the Hall and an intriguing 2020 team anyway, could host that Thursday-nighter on CBS. The Browns host Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this year; both have a Centennial Class Hall of Famer (Harold Carmichael and Donnie Shell), as does Cleveland (wideout Mac Speedie). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eagles-Browns on Thursday night in Week 2. (Pittsburgh and Cleveland played last November on a Thursday night. You might remember that one. Myles Garrett does.)

24. Live! It’s the Dave Gettleman Show! Always a good time, listening to Giants GM Gettleman spar with the media. I liked this Q and Gettleman’s A:

Reporter: “Do you envision this team should contend for a playoff spot in 2020?”

Gettleman: “I’m not even going there. Not even going there. Because I’m not. How’s that? I’ve done studies. I don’t have to answer every question you ask.”

I’ve done studies. I mean, where do you even start with that answer?

NFL draft QB prospect Jordan Love. (Getty Images)

25. Love for Jordan Love. I stopped in my tracks walking by a TV on Thursday night, hearing NFL Network’s Marc Ross saying of Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, “His potential far exceeds Tua.” So I found Ross, 11 years a top personnel executive with the Giants, and asked for an explanation.

“If you actually watch Jordan on tape, watch the traits he has, the playmaking ability, the innate feel for the game, the feel for the pocket, the poise, that will transfer well to the NFL,” Ross said. “When you would watch him every game, there were those ‘oh my gosh’ plays that you just have to keep rewinding . . . I have been banging his drum for a while saying that he was my second favorite guy. When you watch Utah State and Jordan Love’s cast, he was under siege every play, just about. With Tua, or Joe Burrow, they have layup plays where the scheme, the protection’s there, there’s a wide receiver open every time.

“Jordan Love didn’t have any layups in his offense. He’s got these receivers who will be nowhere close to NFL receivers who are tightly covered. He has to overcome all that on every play. Whereas, the Tuas and Joe Burrows, they just really have to make five or six tough plays a game, three-pointers. Jordan Love, every play for him is a three-pointer, or beating his man off the dribble to try to score.”

26. Why Ross is rare. I told one GM about Ross’ comments. This is a GM who is seeking quarterback help this spring. This GM doesn’t agree with Ross about Love; the GM is lukewarm about Love off the field and thinks he’s careless on the field. (Love was cited for marijuana possession the week before Utah State’s bowl games this year, which some teams care about and some don’t. The charge was later dropped.) But Ross, former personnel VP for the Giants, was unswayed. “I love that,” one respected GM said. “I don’t agree, but it’s hard to have that opinion with a guy like Tua. The wave starts—people have loved him for a couple of years—and then it becomes a tsunami. It’s like you can’t go against him. Scouts I like are ones who have opinions like that and don’t back down.”

27. So now we get to labor. I thought, with the players on the verge of voting for or against the tentative agreement between the union and the owners for a 10-year bargaining agreement lasting through the 2029 season, it would be a good idea to explain what happens if the vote is no. I had one person on the players’ side say, “If players vote no, it’s simple: there will either be a lockout in 2021 or we will strike. We all want 16 games, and I understand that. But there is no 16-game option. If we want 16 games, we have to be prepared for a job action.” Let’s go over three key points that will happen if there is a no vote—and there could be:

• It is dubious to think the owners will pick up where they left off if new negotiations would have to start sometime this spring or summer. On the “ESPN Daily” podcast the other day, host Mina Kimes asked former union president Domonique Foxworth what happens if the players vote no. “That increases the chance of some work stoppage and us missing games . . . to at least a coin toss,” said Foxworth, a retired defensive back. “I can’t imagine the owners . . . will be in the mood to keep conceding every time the players say no. At some point, they’re gonna say, ‘This is the deal. Take it or leave it.’ Then they [owners] are gonna wait till the 11th hour to see if the players are still willing to walk off the cliff to a work stoppage.”

Here’s the problem with quote, picking up where you left off in negotiations, unquote. The owners have basically decided they’re going forward only with a 17-game regular-season, and two additional wild-card games. The 18 additional games would likely be used, in part, to fish for an additional over-the-air package of games in TV negotiations, or a streaming package with a money-to-burn entity like Amazon or Facebook. Or both. I’m sure those options would still be on the table in 2021, when the current CBA is set to expire, but timing in this case is important.

• Remember TV ratings, the stock market, and the Coronavirus. As I wrote last week, the presidential election is likely to wreak havoc with 2019’s rising ratings. In the 2016 election year, NFL ratings were down 8 percent. A key NFL man told me last week he thought that the ratings for politics this year will be higher than the 2016 Trump-Hillary ratings were. The stock market dove 10 percent last week on fears of the Coronavirus. Who knows where the virus will go in the coming weeks, but it’s logical to think (not certain, but logical) that the NFL could make a better deal now with networks that desperately want the NFL to anchor their programming in an uncertain time in this country and an uncertain time in the TV business. Alternatively, imagine the NFL going to market for its TV package in July 2021, with ratings having been battered, and with the stock market way down. At least if talks happen now, the ratings will be stronger than any sports product, or any entertainment product, on TV.

• At least now, the league’s not going to give away 1.5 percent points of value to the players without the 17th regular-season game and the two added wild-card games. Those 1.5 percentage points would change the revenue-sharing paradigm from the owners getting 53 percent of the gross revenue and players 47 percent to the owners getting 51.5 percent and players 48.5 percent, approximately. I’m told owners made it abundantly clear there is no 48th point to the players—and no additional $5 billion in revenue to the players side—without the 16 additional regular-season games made possible by extending by one game. If the players want to fight for keeping the season at 16 games, it’s likely they’d have to do it with the understanding that a work stoppage likely would be needed to stay at 16.

I’ve always said the NFLPA negotiators are hamstrung because they know they can go only so far in negotiations. There might be some players (Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers a vocal one, for instance) who are willing to miss games and checks for the long-term betterment of the labor deal. But this union doesn’t have many Curt Floods, players willing to potentially ruin their careers to fight for what they believe in. Careers in the NFL are too short. Why do you think executive director DeMaurice Smith tried to make the best deal he could with management demanding the 17th game? Because he knows he doesn’t have enough players willing to sit out a year.

Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder. (Getty Images)

28. A player rep speaks. New York Giants player rep Nate Solder has made $71 million in his nine seasons; if he finishes this season with the Giants at his current pay, that will rise to $84 million. He is one of the few big-money guys to vocally support the CBA proposal, and he will vote yes on the deal. “This is a great deal for the core players,” Solder told me Saturday. “Minimum salaries would go up significantly, with bumped-up benefits for current players and retired players. We’d increase the practice squad [from 10 to 14 by 2022]. Work rules would improve. I don’t think it’s perfect, but we’re making incremental gains on player health and safety. Some players have fallen victim to the thought if we turn this down, we’ll get something better. We might, but we might not. You have a couple of guys on Twitter who have millions of followers criticizing the deal. Other guys who support it might have 5,000 followers. Their voices aren’t loud. In some ways, I’m trying to be a voice for the voiceless.”

29. I’m no fan of the 17th game, but this is the key point here. Solder says he’s talked to some of the minimum-salary players on the Giants, the players who, if they stayed at the league minimum under the new deal, would see salaries rise by $90,000 in 2020 and $175,000 in 2021. “I’ve asked at least 15 guys on our team, mostly minimum-salary guys or close to that, this question: ‘If you were able to make more money and get better benefits in exchange for a 17th game, would you do it?’ Everyone said yes.” Solder said he would abide by the majority vote. “I respect democracy, and I respect the process. The reps are passionate about doing the best for the players. A lot of guys have a fighter’s mentality to get the best deal for the most players. I respect that. But I would rather take the deal that’s presented here than put everyone in danger of not getting a deal.”

30. The meaning of the Romo deal. As Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported, and as Adam Schefter of ESPN added to, Tony Romo will stay at CBS for about $17 million a year for at least three years. If CBS retains the right to NFL games after 2022, Romo stays for additional years. Getting double what any analyst has ever made is, obviously, a stunning example of Romo being very, very good and being at the perfect place at the right time. CBS needed to keep Romo to show the NFL it would remain a bejeweled property, and CBS desperately wanted to keep Romo from making ESPN’s telecast now and in the future much, much better. Now ESPN, to boost the profile of “Monday Night Football” in the new deal or get a different package, may have to convince Peyton Manning to do something he apparently doesn’t really want to do—color comment on a national TV game every week. It’ll be interesting to see if Manning budges with a gargantuan contract offer from ESPN. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

Quotes of the Week



“You can win because of him, and you can win with him. That’s what’s exciting. He’s got that type of potential, but he’s got to grow into it and nothing will be given. He’s not anointed, that’s for sure. I expect him to come in and compete and work, and we’ll see what happens.”

—Washington coach Ron Rivera on 2019 top pick Dwayne Haskins, the purported quarterback of the future there.


“I’m worried about Tua. The hip, the ankles, the hand, the totality of his injuries. Being a smaller guy, what I feel … Again, we talk about scouting, you really have to look at things and say things that may not be popular. When I watch Tua, precision is amazing. When things are clean, he’s like a point guard distributing, quick release, good body movement. But when things get in Tua’s face, he’s not as effective and you see him shy away a lot.”

—Marc Ross, former New York Giants executive, now with NFL Network, on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.


“Wooooo-ooooo! That is not normal! Six-three and change, 238 pounds!”

—NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, enthusing about Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons after his combine performance.


“Democracy is messy.”

—NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, on the differing opinions on the new labor agreement from his membership.


“I think the time is now. Our chance to compete at a very high level in the NFL is right now.”

—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, to Cowboys beat writers at the combine.


The Brooklyn Nets signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last offseason, with the knowledge that Durant would probably miss this season recovering from a torn Achilles. For the 2019-20 season, the Nets agreed to pay Irving and Durant a combined $69.2 million.

Durant indeed will miss the season. Irving, who missed 76 games due to injury in the previous four seasons, played 20 this season. He’ll miss the rest of the year due to shoulder surgery. So the Nets got 20 games out of their two franchise players for the $69.2 million.

The Nets were 30-29 last year without either player after 59 games, 13 games out of first place in their division.

The Nets are 26-33 this year after 59 games, 25.5 games out of first place in their division.

Numbers Game


Per Over The Cap, average salary earned by Tony Romo in his 14 seasons as a Dallas Cowboy: $9,101,429.

Per the New York Post, Romo’s approximate average salary in his next three seasons with CBS: $17,000,000.

King of the Road

I could extol the virtues of downtown Indianapolis for a long time—and I have, on several occasions in this space—but one of the best things in a walkable city with hotels and the stadium and restaurants in close proximity is the walking, and not needing a car. On Thursday, I figured that I walked about 88 minutes during the day. What’s that, five miles at a brisk pace? Whatever, when you’re walking off meals, it’s an added benefit I can really use.

Tweets of the Week



Former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody now works for ESPN.


The Checkdown covers the NFL.


Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins, presumably with an ear to the ground, listening to people at the combine dog him, and hearing the reports of his own team meeting with quarterbacks in Indy.


The Waukesha Freeman is a newspaper in Wisconsin.


Jason Gay is the Wall Street Journal’s sports columnist.


Aaron Rupar writes for Vox.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think, judging by history, the Patriots won’t rush into the quarterback market if they lose Tom Brady. I’ll tell you how I see a New England-minus-Brady scenario playing out: New England goes through the draft, and maybe picks a quarterback (I doubt in the first round) and maybe does not. But after the draft, there will be four or five vets looking for a landing spot. Will one—Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Case Keenum, someone else—still unsigned by May 1 be interested in a one-year, low-money deal to recharge a career and have the chance to play for the six-time Super Bowl champs?

2. I think Antoine Winfield Jr., made himself a lot of money in the past few days. Teams love the approach of the son of the former Viking cornerback, his knowledge of the game, his 4.48 speed. “He has a lot of the personal traits and football instincts of Jamal Adams,” one coach told me of the University of Minnesota product.

3. I think I don’t know everything coaches look for in a quarterback, and I haven’t scouted Jalen Hurts—at all. But watching his fluidity, his arm strength and his deep ball (granted, against air) Thursday night in his throwing session here, and knowing about his leadership and performance under pressure in two mega-high-profile college programs, I would love to have this guy on my team. I think he’s a legit pick in the second round. I think he’d be a value pick in the third round. I think it’s insane to think he gets to the fourth round.

4. I think I heard Sunday the speculation—from Deion Sanders in this case, but he’s not the first and will not be the last—about how Tom Brady should play for the Niners. So let’s do the math.

• Niners are $13.1 million under the proposed 2020 cap.
Jimmy Garoppolo is due to cost $26.6 million against the cap in 2020.
• Let’s say, conservatively, Brady could be signed to a two-year deal with a cap charge of $22 million in 2020.

That leaves the Niners, barring a huge round of cap-related player cuts, out of the free-agent market for anyone else of consequence, and likely out of the market for their own free agents: Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. And we haven’t even gotten to this conversation between Kyle Shanahan and Garoppolo: “Uh, Jimmy, we love you. You’re our future. But we’re playing Tom Brady for the next year, maybe two. You’ll still make all your money.” And if the Niners would, say, trade Garoppolo in the midst of one of the most jam-packed QB markets in free-agency history, good luck in getting real value for Garoppolo. Finally: Who’s your quarterback on opening day 2022, John Lynch?

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. (Getty Images)

5. I think, as you can imagine, I am not bullish on the concept, either with Jimmy G staying or Jimmy G leaving. But if this happens, and Garoppolo stays, I would also like to wish the 49ers good luck with the quarterback position counting $49 million on the 2020 cap.

6. I think, if this labor deal passes, I am interested in the first veteran player (Richard Sherman?) saying to a team, privately, “I’m only playing 16 games in the regular season. Fine me. Cut me. I don’t care. But I never planned to play football with an expanded regular season, and I don’t plan to now. And so we can do it any way you want, but understand I am not playing that 17th game if I’m still on the team when the 17-game schedule comes out in 2021.

7. I think the oddest storyline of the combine, other than the one about the tiny hands of Joe Burrow (who threw 60 touchdowns in the SEC with said tiny hands in 2019), was the one about questioning Chase Young’s ability because he went sack-less in his final three college games. Not a big fan of sack totals telling the whole story about a player—or about how the opposition plays a player.

8. I think I do not care if Belichickian-game-playing Joe Judge won’t mention the name of his quarterback, Daniel Jones, or give some kind of early opinion on Jones’ play. Judge at the combine refused to comment on the ability or status of any player on his roster. In New York, that became a little bit of a thing. He doesn’t like Daniel Jones, was one narrative. This is the problem with covering the NFL 52 weeks a year. We make mountains of meaningless ant hills, such as theorizing why Judge won’t discuss Jones yet. Who cares! Sometimes it’s okay to say, We don’t care what a silly coach says, or doesn’t say. The Giants’ quarterback is Daniel Jones, and let’s all move on with our lives accordingly.

9. I think one of the interesting points about the proposed CBA is the lessening the marijuana penalties. Because the league will be testing for marijuana only in the first two weeks of training camp, and because there will no suspension for a positive test, players can use marijuana from about Aug. 10 till June 20 every year without fear or reprisal. And even if they test positive, they’re not put in a program or taken off the field. Compare that to DUI. A DUI conviction would lead to an automatic three-game ban.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Missed “Curb Your Enthuasiasm” Sunday night, with the Jets part of the episode. It’s DVRed. By the time you read this, I’ll have devoured it.

b. So impressed with how good “Curb” is after lo these many years.

c. I am devouring the Coronavirus news, and washing my hands double the normal amount, and still wonder if I’m powerless to stop it in a city like New York.

d. Not feeling a lot of confidence about the Coronavirus, per the New York Times. Writes Andrew Jacobs and Sheri Fink:

“The Chinese bought us a month of time to prepare ourselves by imposing these astonishing and draconian measures,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which last year issued a report that identified flaws in the nation’s health security. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make good use of that time and now we’re heading into a very dangerous situation.” China’s decision to quarantine tens of millions of its citizens raises questions about what kind of measures American authorities might adopt. Although public health experts in the United States say walling off entire cities and shutting down transport systems would most likely be counterproductive and do more harm than good, federal and state laws give governments the authority to limit civil liberties to protect the public health.

f. How we are burying the problem of mental illness in our society is shameful, and Eric Westervelt of NPR is all over it.

g. From Westervelt’s report:

“Today the three biggest mental health centers in America are jails: LA County, Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) and New York City’s Rikers Island jail. Without the support needed, conditions have created new asylums, advocates say, that can resemble the very places they vowed to shut down. ‘Local jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health institutions,’ says Elizabeth Hancq, director of research at the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that works to eliminate barriers to treatment for people with severe mental illness. ‘It’s really a humanitarian crisis that if you suffer from a severe mental illness in this country, you almost need to commit a crime in order to get into the system.’ “

h. Social Column of the Week: Lindsay Crouse of the New York Times on a problem that she never thought she’d have to deal with. Writes Crouse:

I was eating bodega grapes at my desk on a recent Monday morning, gearing up to wrangle my inbox, when my phone started buzzing:

“Check Facebook.”

“Check Twitter.”

“Are you OK?”

It was an emergency: My ex-boyfriend, I learned, had a new girlfriend.

Lady Gaga.

j. Over-under on Red Sox wins in 2020: 78. That’s being generous.

k. Then again, the Yankees have set a record for February injuries.

l. Rays, anyone?

m. Coffeenerdness: One of my meetings with an NFL GM happened at a cute coffee shop in downtown Indy, Hubbard & Cravens. Not only was the espresso near-perfect (could have been a tad bolder) but the scent and environment was perfect for a busy downtown coffee shop. Loved it.

n. Beernerdness: Thanks so much to Sun King Brewery for hosting our annual Scouting Combine Tweetup. Such wonderful people there. And the cream ale—which I had in one of the local bars during the week—was as delicious as usual. The one thing about Sun King is the folks there are ridiculously generous and welcoming. I told them the other night that even if the combine moves to L.A., which has been a consistent rumor the last year or so, I want to come back and do an event there every year. Thanks, too, to friend Angie Six for organizing the whole thing, and to the Colts for contributing some merchandise for the charitable cause. Man, those in the crowd love Darius Leonard.

o. So glad those in attendance at our Tweetup were able to enrich a tremendous charity, Teachers Treasures (which gives school supplies to teachers in needy central Indiana classrooms) by $1,700. When every dollar of donation leads to $15 in purchasing power for Teachers Treasures, it’s good to know people who get together to have a beer and talk football can help a crucial cause like that with an effective donation of $25,500. Thanks to one and all. See you next year.

The Adieu Haiku


On the CBA:
Detest the 17th game.
But think I’d vote yes.

8 responses to “FMIA, NFL Scouting Combine: Thirty Bits of Buzz From the Scene in Indy

  1. The elephant in the room Peter and all football people are ignoring: Brady’s play slipped in 2019 and will continue. Belichick knows this. Best case scenario is he pulls a Peyton, he goes to a team with a great D and leads in the locker room while his play flails. Not hate, just reality for every player eventually.

  2. Peter – IYOu get close ,,.. but, ‘m surprised you haven’t suggested the 17th game is a good idea, but players can only play in 16 games. Requiring teams to go deeper into their rosters and strategizing for instance when to sit your starting QB would be fun. This would also allow for a little roster expansion and help with development of the 2nd string QB. It would encourage all kinds of interesting scenarios and maybe even lead to innovations. When you announce the active players for the game would be interesting… game day at 10am? 30 minutes before gametime? or on Saturday at 400pm?

  3. I’ve never understood the resistance to playing 17 games because EVERY NFL player starts the season HOPING he will play in 20 games (all the way to the super bowl).

  4. With all the available QBs, I could see Belichick thinking this is the right time to cut the cord with Brady if he is not willing to come in at the right price. Even if they don’t find a long-term fix, the Pats should be able to sign a guy they are comfortable with while they look for the right guy.

  5. Thank you so very much for writing “wreak havoc” instead of the “wreck havoc” we so often get from the sports press.

  6. “6. I think, if this labor deal passes, I am interested in the first veteran player (Richard Sherman?) saying to a team, privately, “I’m only playing 16 games in the regular season. Fine me. Cut me. I don’t care.”

    This makes absolutely no sense. Players are paid PER SEASON, not per game.

    What happens if SF drafts a stud CB and he supplants Sherman as a starter mid-way through the season? Can the team then say to Sherman, “Fine. You only played in 8 games. We’re not paying you for those other games you didn’t play in.”???

    The answer is no. Sherman will be still be paid $10m whether he plays 800 snaps in 16 games or 8 snaps in 17 games.

  7. “Compare that to DUI. A DUI conviction would lead to an automatic three-game ban.”

    There’s a huge difference between test positive for using cannabis by your employer and being convicted for Driving Under the Influence. Which BTW could be for ANY substance that impairs your driving. I’m not a proponent of cannabis use but it has been and will be going on in the league for a long time. The three game ban for DUI conviction IMHO is not severe enough considering the stakes involved. There is NO comparison to the two.

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