NFL

QBs will dominate NFL Draft, power rankings and more

The NFL Draft is only 10 days away, and the quarterback talk is heating up. Come next Thursday, expect to hear plenty of names at that position.

The incoming class of rookie quarterbacks is relatively weak. Four of them will likely be first-round picks.

While this crop of youngsters is dominated by edge rushers, it’s the quarterbacks who have the league buzzing only 10 days out from the Arizona Cardinals going on the clock.

It’s long been a foregone conclusion that Kyler Murray will be the No. 1 overall selection, but the rest of the round is shrouded in mystery. For months, mock drafts had the New York Giants and Dwayne Haskins married in marker at the sixth spot.

Now? Haskins is the most unsure to stay in the first round of the top four quarterbacks.

According to one general manager I spoke with, the belief is that a quartet of quarterbacks are going in the first 32 picks. The GM listed Murray, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones as locks, with Haskins a likely fourth to that group.

Additionally, the popular notion is that Jones and the Giants make sense for a variety of reasons. Jones played at Duke and learned at the knee of Head Coach David Cutcliffe, who has longstanding ties to the Mannings. Cutcliffe will have access to General Manager Dave Gettleman’s ear. So will Eli Manning.

All told, there are a bevy of teams that have reason to be intrigued with taking a quarterback early. The Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Giants and Cardinals all have a need at the position. While it stands to reason one of them will land Josh Rosen via trade, that still leaves a half-dozen franchises on the prowl.

Trying to figure out how the draft shakes out is equivalent to predicting tomorrow’s lottery numbers, but there are some tidbits to work with.

  • Since the Senior Bowl in Mobile, the worst-kept secret going is Denver’s interest in Drew Lock. Lock fits the profile of a John Elway love interest. Big frame, strong arm.
  • The Dolphins have gone into full tank mode. They could be looking towards a year from now when Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert come out.
  • Washington has been linked to Rosen in trade rumors for weeks, signaling that Case Keenum might not be the only new face in that quarterback room this summer.

In recent years, we’ve seen quarterbacks fly off the board. There’s multiple reasons for that. The obvious one is that the game is tilted more toward their powers than ever before. The second, and equally important reason, is the rookie wage scale.

When the NFL and NFLPA agreed to insert it during the 2010 CBA negotiations, it allowed teams to find cheap talent at the game’s most expensive position and then control it for five years. Since 2011, there have been multiple quarterbacks selected in each draft’s first round, save for 2013. In six of those eight drafts, at least three quarterbacks have been taken  on the first night.

You would be hard-pressed to find a talent evaluator who believes four of the best 32 talents in this year’s proceedings are quarterbacks.

You’d be equally hard-pressed to find one who believes that will matter come April 25.

Power rankings

Top 10 undrafted free agents of all time

1. Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers
2. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams
3. Warren Moon, Houston Oilers
4. Night Train Lane, Chicago Cardinals
5. John Randle, Minnesota Vikings
6. Emmitt Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs
7. Willie Wood, Green Bay Packers
8. Willie Brown, Oakland Raiders
9. Emlen Tunnell, New York Giants
10. Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs

Quotable

“It’s going to hurt us a little bit. Those guys were the leaders from the first day, but [Suggs] said it is time for the new breed, that it’s time for us to start our own legacy and carry on the tradition of playing great defense.”

– Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor on the team’s new-look roster

No team lost more recognizable pieces this offseason than the Ravens. Gone are Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Baltimore will try to repeat in the AFC North without those stars, relying on Lamar Jackson and a secondary that features Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson and the newly-acquired Earl Thomas.

Podcast

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Random stat

The Houston Texans are the only team to never reach a conference championship game. However, the Cincinnati Bengals have not been involved since 1988, giving them the longest drought.

Info learned this week

1. Seahawks face pressure with Wilson, Clark

The April 15th deadline has come for Russell Wilson. There’s no deal, and now the intrigue begins.

Seattle missed the deadline imposed by its Pro Bowl quarterback to sign him on an extension. While Wilson and agent Mark Rodgers would certainly pick up the phone on any forthcoming offers by General Manager John Schneider, the rumors of whether Wilson will remain with the team are already swirling.

Wilson being traded is a last resort, but this is a tricky situation. The former Super Bowl champ is 30 years old and a new contract wouldn’t begin until the 2020 season. Does Schneider want to commit $30-35 million per year for a quarterback that relies heavily on his legs to buy time and make plays?

In a league that demands elite quarterback play to consistently compete, paying Wilson appears the easy answer. Maybe the Seahawks don’t agree.

Seattle also has a decision to make on edge rusher Frank Clark.

Clark, 25, has recorded 32 sacks over the past three seasons, including a career-high 13 last year. According to multiple sources, the Seahawks would listen to offers for Clark, with the starting point being a second-round choice.

After losing Sheldon Richardson, Paul Richardson, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Jimmy Graham last year, and then Earl Thomas a month ago, Seattle has more tough choices ahead.

2. Vikings signing of Thielen says plenty

Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has been a busy man this offseason.

In March, Spielman pulled what many believed was impossible, retaining linebacker Anthony Barr while restructuring the contract of defensive end Everson Griffen without any cap casualties. Then over the weekend, Spielman struck again with a four-year, $64 million extension for wide receiver Adam Thielen.

Thielen, 28, is a great story. Originally an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State, Thielen now has a pair of 1,200-yard seasons along with a contract that guarantees him $35 million.

This offseason has made a statement to everybody in the Vikings locker room. Spielman has made a commitment to paying the elite performers on his roster, showcased by the deals for Barr and Thielen. Spielman easily could have let Thielen play out his rookie deal with the franchise tag looming in 2020. Instead, he paid the blossoming star.

Spielman’s message is clear. If you perform, we’ll take care of you.

3. Patriots hold keys to draft with 12 picks

Sick of the New England Patriots? Better not watch the draft.

New England has a dozen picks in next week’s draft, tied with the Giants for the most by one team this year. Bill Belichick and Co. have a whopping six picks over the first three rounds, including the 32nd, 56th, 64th, 73rd, 97th and 101st-overall choices.

With all that ammunition, it will be fascinating to see how the Patriots go about their business. On one hand, New England has a litany of needs. The Patriots can upgrade their front seven, wide receiver and tight end depth charts by standing pat. Conversely, with Tom Brady turning 42 years old in August, Belichick could draft with the notion of adding a couple of major, immediate impact players by trading up.

Typically, Belichick enjoys moving back and racking up choices both in the current and future drafts. With Brady aging, perhaps this time is different.

4. Colts strategy worth watching after quiet free agency

The Indianapolis Colts came into free agency with the most cap space of any team. They enter the draft in the same position with almost $18 million more than the second-place Texans.

After largely being quiet in free agency — the only significant additions were wide receiver Devin Funchess and outside linebacker Justin Houston — will General Manager Chris Ballard make his splashes in the draft?

The Colts have the No. 26 overall pick along with a pair of second-round choices, acquiring one from the New York Jets. Indianapolis went 10-6 last year and reached the AFC Divisional round, fueled largely by a two rookie All-Pros in guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard.

Needing perhaps a few critical pieces to vault from good team to contender status, Ballard has a chance to be a real player between April 25-27. Indianapolis needs defensive help, something this draft has in large supply. While he could wait around and take three potentially solid players with the aforementioned picks, he could also move up and land two blue-chippers.

Ballard and the Colts are one of the key teams in the draft, much like the Patriots.

5. NFL schedule should be coming out this week

With the draft coming up in 10 days, expect the NFL schedule to be released on Thursday.

Last year, the league announced the schedule would be out two days before it dropped. If we see history repeat itself, keep your ears open on Tuesday.

We already know much of the schedule. The opponents were determined back on the final day of the 2018 regular season, including home and road slates. The NFL also announced that the Green Bay Packers will visit the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 5, the opening game of the 2019 campaign. The Super Bowl-champion Patriots, who typically would host that Thursday affair, are instead opening up at home on Sunday Night Football come Week 1 against an unknown opponent.

The schedule, which was a non-event only a few years ago, now demands multiple-hour reveal shows. The NFL continues to dominate the news cycle.

History lesson

In 1996, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars went from expansion to exceptional.

With both franchises only in their second years, Jacksonville and Carolina both reached their respective conference championship games, albeit on far different paths.

The Panthers rolled to the NFC’s No. 2 seed, stunning the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC West with a 12-4 mark. In the postseason, Carolina won its opener, knocking out the defending Super Bowl-champion Dallas Cowboys.

As for the Jaguars, they began the year 4-7 before reeling off five consecutive victories to finish the regular season. In Week 17, needing a win to clinch a playoff berth, Jacksonville watched as future Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen missed a game-winning 30-yard field goal for the Atlanta Falcons, sending the Jags on their way.

Once in the postseason, Jacksonville upset the Buffalo Bills in Rich Stadium before pulling off an all-time shocker, knocking out the Broncos in Mile High with a 30-27 win.

While both teams fell one step short of the Super Bowl, it remains one of the crazier years the NFL has seen.

Parting shot

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in need of group counseling. Fast.

The non-stop drama continues to plague a franchise once known for avoiding this type of discourse at all costs. Now, it can’t go a day without finding it.

Despite trading away Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh can’t seem to escape the wide receiver’s mind. He has continually taken shots at JuJu Smith-Schuster, who to his credit has largely been mature enough to avoid firing back.

However, the past week has seen former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall call current quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a racist, followed by offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster tweeting out that any problems should be brought to them by former members of the franchise. Of course, those players had no problem calling out James Harrison and Le’Veon Bell publicly.

Amazingly, the parade of insults and indignities keep coming with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Ravens are quietly preparing to defend their AFC North crown, while the Cleveland Browns are loading up for a serious run as a challenger.

For a franchise that long has commanded respect, the Steelers have certainly fallen on their collective face.

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