It might be the start of the NFL offseason but things are surely happening behind the scenes at the NFL Scouting Combine with blockbuster rumors breaking on a near hourly basis.
On the quarterback front, the rumors have been boiling over as to where Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick and even the embattled Johnny Manziel will play in 2017.
In other areas, some big-name NFL stars have signed contracts that are sure to create a stir among their counterparts. Meanwhile, other stars that have not shined so brightly will be hitting free agency in search of new teams.
Trade reports are also busting at the seams, with certain teams entertaining the idea of giving up their early first-round draft picks. Quarterbacks come into play here as well.
Therefore, it makes sense to look at the 10 hottest rumors coming up at the combine in Indianapolis.
1. It’s all about Tony Romo
What is going on regarding Romo?
The NFL team most connected to Romo prior to NFL Combine week had been the Denver Broncos. After all, Romo has reportedly indicated that Denver would be his ideal choice in team. The Broncos would reportedly entertain the idea of pursuing Romo if he got released.
But wait. In breaking news on Friday, a report involving a three-team trade erupted. This was huge news. Reportedly, there were talks in the works involving the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers.
Under this hypothetical scenario, Romo would land with Washington while the Redskins would trade Kirk Cousins to the 49ers.
Since this startling information broke, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones went on record on Saturday to say there is “no legitimacy” at all to the three-way trade rumor.
So it would appear for now, the Romo trade to Washington talk is just that.
As it stands with the potential Broncos/Romo connection, John Elway said this past week that the Broncos are “open to everything.”
For now, all eyes will be on the Cowboys as it pertains to Romo’s future in the league. A trade or release by Dallas of the 36-year-old quarterback seems nearly inevitable.
2. Washington’s hesitancy to commit to Kirk Cousins long term
After mentioning the rumored three-way trade involving Washington, it is only appropriate we delve into Cousins’ situation.
If Washington was really sold on him, the team’s brass would have already signed him to a long-term deal. The Redskins have a good quarterback on their hands and they know it. But they seem to have commitment issues after tagging him for a second season in a row (more on that here).
Cousins was slapped with an exclusive franchise tag that will pay him approximately $24 million if he signs off on it. Once free agency begins, no team outside of Washington can negotiate with Cousins under the terms of the tag.
Even if nothing happens involving the Cowboys and Romo, a potential trade that sends Cousins to the 49ers could still come about. This would pair Cousins with former Redskins offensive coordinator in that of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Whatever happens with Cousins he will get paid well, either under his franchise tender or with another club. He is coming off a two-year span that saw him pass for a total of 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns. During this stretch, Cousins completed an average of 68.4 percent of his passes.
We would like to think this production will continue wherever he suits up in 2017.
3. The Patriots hold firm on not trading Jimmy Garoppolo?
There looks to be a possible smokescreen forming when it comes to the New England Patriots’ plans for Garoppolo.
Looks like the Patriots are trying to create leverage for a trade by getting the word out they "are not expected to trade…Garoppolo" https://t.co/1qpJ7F9ubd
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) March 1, 2017
Sometimes the best way to attain what you want is to use reverse psychology. Who better of an NFL head coach to pull this off than the crafty Bill Belichick? Trade rumors have been circulating surrounding the young Garoppolo since before the Super Bowl was even played.
We created a list of seven potential teams that might just be willing to give up their first-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for Garoppolo. A first-round pick was reportedly the very least ransom it would take for Belichick to move the team’s fourth-year quarterback.
But the latest reports stemming from the Patriots’ camp at the combine suggest the team has no plans for a trade. Perhaps, the Patriots just want the teams in desperate need of a quarterback to up their offers. It’s likely nothing more than a smoke screen (more on that here).
Of all the quarterback needy NFL teams, the Cleveland Browns have been the most associated with pursuing Garoppolo. They hold the first and 12th picks in the draft, the latter of which Cleveland has reportedly discussed yielding for the Pats’ backup. How glorious, yet unfair, would it be for the Super Bowl LI champions to possess yet another first-round pick?
4. Browns and 49ers phone lines are wide open for trade talks
Speaking of the Browns and trading draft picks, both Cleveland and the San Francisco 49ers have expressed interest in trading No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
We will cover the Browns first. Without a consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect, the Browns are in a good spot to wheel and deal their No. 1 to see what comes about. After all, Cleveland’s track record of picking a quarterback in the first round has proven disastrous more often than not. Plus, Cleveland gets to pick at No. 12 anyway. Why not entertain offers?
Regarding the 49ers, new general manager John Lynch had this to say about their No. 2 pick.
“We could stay pat right there and find a fabulous player, a game-changing player. It gives us a lot of flexibility to do some other things if we chose to be bold. There are going to be people that covet the pick we have, so there’s going to be some people that want to move up.”
It would seem the 49ers are at least trying to enjoy the spoils that go with finishing second-worst in the league. It is highly likely that San Francisco could give up pick No. 2 in that three-way trade we discussed earlier. If that goes bust, then giving up the second pick to another quarterback-needy team could still bear fruit.
Both teams’ phone lines should be ringing off the hook approaching the draft.
5. Colin Kaepernick says goodbye to San Francisco, takes a stand
Touching on the 49ers, Kaepernick made the decision to opt out of his contract for 2017.
#49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's new agents, Jeff Nalley & Sean Kiernan, informed 32 teams yesterday that they rep him and he will be opting out
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2017
This follows recent news of a positive meeting Kap had with the 49ers’ new brass late in February. Kap’s departure leaves the team with zero quarterbacks on its roster currently.
As for Kap, he wants a fresh start, which seems easy enough. Or maybe not so much. The aforementioned Browns already reportedly indicated that they are not interested in 29-year-old former Super Bowl quarterback.
Kap will likely arrive to a new team with some heavy baggage. He received a benching back in 2015 for poor play. Since then, the former second-round pick has become a divisive off-field figure due to his protest of the National Anthem this past season.
The surprise here is that Kaepernick has suddenly done an about-face and plans to stand for the National Anthem in 2017. Coincidentally enough, following Kap’s change of heart, news broke that several teams said they would not pursue him if he continued to kneel during the Anthem. Go figure.
Kaepernick’s adventure into free agency should continue to flood NFL headlines for several weeks to come.
6. Titans looking to spend big dough to snare top receivers
The Tennessee Titans made bold moves and spent top dollar to bolster their run game last year. Boy did it pay off. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry helped lead the third-best rushing offense in 2016. Tennessee won nine games, tying for the top spot in the AFC South.
Now, Tennessee wants to invest richly in getting some pass-catching help for quarterback Marcus Mariota. There are some great names out there that the Titans could peruse. Alshon Jeffery is the free agent up for grabs. Other impending free agent wideouts the Titans could entertain bringing aboard include: DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor, Pierre Garcon and Victor Cruz.
And a big name guy seeking a trade is New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks would be a dynamite weapon for Mariota if such a connection was made. The former first-round pick has tallied 2,211 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
We will have to see how things play out once free agency starts. Perhaps, the Titans will even consider adding back Kenny Britt who also becomes a free agent.
7. Huge contracts could set high bar
There’s a new highest-paid safety in the NFL.
During the week of the NFL Combine, the Kansas City Chiefs inked All Pro Eric Berry to a sweet six-year, $78 million deal. He will now earn $500,000 more on average per year than Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. This makes Berry the highest paid player at his position.
The eighth-year safety recorded four interceptions, two touchdowns, one fumble recovery and 77 combined tackles in 2016. He will certainly be instrumental in setting the bar higher for other safeties when their contracts are reworked or expire.
As for Antonio Brown, his Pittsburgh Steelers finally took care of him. The 28-year-old All Pro is now the richest receiver in the league.
His deal consists of a four-year extension worth $68 million. This equates to a cool $17 million per season through 2021.
Prior to the Steelers putting pen to paper, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green was the highest paid, raking in $15 million per year.
Brown is certainly deserving of the substantial raise he just earned.
Over his past four seasons, the talented receiver has averaged 120 receptions for 1,578 yards and 10.75 touchdowns per year.
8. Is Jay Cutler still “starter” material?
Just as many expected, the Chicago Bears placed their embattled signal caller on the trade block in February. But that doesn’t mean the 33-year-old quarterback isn’t qualified to “start” for another team. At the very least, this is according to one NFL executive that had this to say regarding Cutler.
“There are not enough quality quarterbacks, so he will definitely be a starter in 2017.”
Given that one thumbs up, the executive also said that the trade value for Cutler would likely be a fifth-round draft pick. Ouch.
Cutler was originally selected 11th overall in 2006 by the Denver Broncos. He joined the Bears in 2009 which was the last time he played a full 16-game season. Coming off of his worst campaign to date, having only played five games in 2016, Cutler joins a colorful crew of quarterbacks potentially shifting teams this year.
Cutler is by far not the best on the list, but he is not the worst option out there for a quarterback-needy team. He has also thrown out the word “retirement,” which might happen if he doesn’t get offered a starting role.
9. Recognizable running backs hit free agency, interesting teams come calling
Two big names slated to become free agents next week are Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.
In what wasn’t a huge surprise, Minnesota decided against picking up Peterson’s option for the 2017 season. He was slated to earn $18 million which was apparently way too much given his age and recent injury history. That doesn’t mean other teams won’t make him a generous offer though. Peterson keeps in excellent shape and appears to be quite healthy after injuring his MCL last September.
As for Charles, the team released him following two injury-plagued seasons in 2015-16. Prior to that, Charles served as the workhorse on offense, piling up a grand total of 5,049 yards and 39 touchdowns his previous three years.
Getting completely healthy is a must for Charles if he wishes to continue his NFL career. If he can prove he has no physical limitations, he should attract attention in free agency. One club that has already spoken up is the Philadelphia Eagles.
10. NFL teams showing interest in Johnny Manziel at Combine
For once in quite some time, Johnny Football is in news headlines for a good reason.
Johnny Manziel, serious enough to get Burkhardt to take him back, is drawing real interest from teams at the Combine, per @MikeGarafolo & me
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2017
Manziel recently achieved sobriety on his own. That’s a huge accomplishment. It’s also an accomplishment that if it sticks, could get him back onto the football field. The young quarterback also appears to be working out and hitting up the practice field.
Manziel had a recent check in with the court in connection with his 2016 domestic violence case involving his ex-girlfriend. The judge was impressed and Manziel had this to report.
“Everything has been going extremely smoothly and my life is trending upwards, so I don’t even want to let this get anywhere near the rabbit hole that you were describing. … I’m taking this responsibility — I need to get my life in order. These are the things I need to do.”
If the young quarterback keeps all of his business in order this offseason, he may just wind up with an NFL team to call home in September. Should this happen, keep in mind Manziel would still have to serve a four-game suspension in relation to his past substance abuse issues.