Dissecting the winners and losers from the NFL Combine

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Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett (Photo by Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)
BY MARK MASKE
The Washington Post

March 6, 2017

Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.

First and 10: March 6

First: Winners and losers at the combine

1. John Ross’s speed | 2. Three-way trade | 3. Cap room
4. No Jimmy Garoppolo trade? | 5. Expanded playoffs
6. Competition committee odds and ends | 7. Giants’ spending
8. Hits on Deshaun Watson | 9. John Lynch’s experience | 10. Sean McVay and Jared Goff

FIRST…

INDIANAPOLIS — This was the center of the NFL universe for the past week.

Just about all the key front-office decision-makers and coaches from every NFL team were here to assess draft-eligible college players at the league’s scouting combine. Agents were on hand for an NFL Players Association seminar and might have sneaked in a conversation with a team or two. Members of the competition committee discussed prospective rule changes and held their annual player-safety meeting with NFLPA representatives.

It in many ways sets the tone for the remainder of the offseason. Here are a few quick thoughts on some of the winners and losers from the week.

Winners:

John Ross … The University of Washington wide receiver became the king of the 40-yard dash, clocking 4.22 seconds to break the combine record previously held by Chris Johnson at 4.24 seconds. It didn’t win Ross his own island, since Adidas promised that prize only to a record-breaker wearing its brand of shoes and Ross was wearing Nike. But it certainly made everyone in the league take notice.

Here’s the thing: Ross can play. He isn’t a track guy who can’t catch. He was thought to be a likely first-round pick even before his exploits this past weekend. Now, one has to wonder if a team with a selection in the upper half of the first round will become fixated on his game-breaking speed.

Myles Garrett … The Texas A&M pass rusher did nothing to change the notion that he is a very viable option for the Cleveland Browns with the draft’s top overall choice. He ran his 40 in 4.64 seconds. He had a vertical leap of 41 inches. He had 33 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press so he’s plenty strong as well. Just as everyone knew Ross is fast, everyone knew Garrett is wildly athletic. But it never hurts to reinforce it.

[Myles Garrett’s meeting with the Browns could be awkward after he begged the Cowboys to draft him]

Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey … Eyebrows were raised when Fournette weighed in at 240 pounds, despite his explanation that he was carrying five pounds of water weight that quickly would be shed. He put any fears to rest, however, when he was timed at 4.51 seconds in his 40-yard dash. McCaffrey showed superb all-around athleticism with his 4.48-second time in the 40, his 37.5-inch vertical leap and good performances in other drills. It’s a deep running back class and these two cemented their places at or very near the top of it.

Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky … Watson impressed many observers during the on-field passing drills and helped himself during the team-by-team interview process. There is no clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in this draft class but Watson might be inching ahead of the rest of the group at the top. Trubisky’s draft stock was boosted when he measured in at a shade above 6-2. Some teams are wary of quarterbacks smaller than that and there were suspicions that Trubisky would not reach the mark.

Combine popularity … Stands were set up and fans were allowed into the large room where bench-press drills took place. Frankly, there wasn’t all that much to see. But fans showed up and were enthusiastic, yelling loudly enough to be overheard regularly in the adjacent room where players were participating in media interviews. So much for any contention that the NFL’s popularity is in significant decline. People will show up just to watch potential NFL players lift weights.

Losers:

Reuben Foster … The Alabama linebacker was sent home, reportedly because of an incident with a hospital staffer while he was waiting to undergo a medical exam. Foster has been regarded as a player likely to be taken in the upper half of the first round. This certainly won’t disqualify him from that in the minds of most — if not all — interested teams. But it did put an unnecessary question mark by his name. His representatives reportedly sent an apology letter to all 32 franchises and invited teams to meet with him before Alabama’s pro-day workout for scouts.

Redskins … Bruce Allen, the team president, said the Redskins were able to accomplish what they needed to accomplish even with General Manager Scot McCloughan absent. “Everyone has a job to do,” Allen said as he walked through the convention center one afternoon. “They’re doing it.”

[The Redskins’ foundation is shaking as a key offseason gets under way]

The Redskins even managed to hammer out a two-year contract extension through 2020 with Coach Jay Gruden. Even so, McCloughan’s absence led many of those in Indianapolis to wonder what is happening internally with the organization. Agents and officials from other teams said they were unclear about McCloughan’s status, even though Allen said the GM could be back at work this week and others indicated that McCloughan was busily doing work back home in the D.C. area last week. The Redskins were in no hurry to provide clarity, and the stability that McCloughan’s arrival seemed to provide a couple years ago is an ever-more-distant memory now.

Jets … Cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Brandon Marshall were addedto the list of players released last week. The team previously had parted with center Nick Mangold, offensive tackles Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini and kicker Nick Folk. There could be more to come. The holdover quarterbacks are Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Is this team really only one season removed from just missing the AFC playoffs? This has the feel of a start-over project right now.

… AND TEN

1. Ross’s speed: Is there any doubt that late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who adored downfield passes and the speedy wide receivers capable of catching them, would have done whatever he could to have gotten Ross?

Not in the mind of former longtime Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

“Al Davis used to sit with me here every year (he ordered the hot dogs). He would have loved that run by John Ross. Miss that man,” Brandt wrote on Twitter.

2. Three-way trade: Is it possible that the Redskins, Cowboys and 49ers will pull off a three-way trade in which franchise-tagged quarterback Kirk Cousins ends up in San Francisco, Tony Romo goes to Washington and the Cowboys get some draft-choice compensation? Sure, it’s possible. Don’t completely dismiss anything in the NFL.

But it doesn’t make much sense. Why would anyone give up anything for Romo knowing that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is likely to release him and allow him to be fully in charge of picking his next team? And why would Jones send Romo to a division rival, given his belief that Romo remains capable of taking a team to a Super Bowl?

Also, how many three-way trades do you see in the NFL?

3. Cap room: The Browns have $103.6 million in salary cap space, according to NFLPA records. That’s a league high. The 49ers have the next-most with $74.3 million, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars with $67.7 million, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with $66.2 million, the Tennessee Titans with $61.5 million and the New England Patriots with $59.7 million.

The Cowboys have a league-low $3.3 million in cap space. That’s why there isn’t much reason to pay attention when Jones talks about the possibility of retaining Romo, who is to count $24.7 million against the cap, as a backup to Dak Prescott.

The 2017 cap is set at $167 million per team. The Browns are carrying over an additional $50.1 million in unused cap space from 2016, according to the NFLPA records.

4. No Garoppolo trade? The latest speculation that the Patriots won’t trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could prove accurate. Tom Brady can’t play forever no matter how firmly he seems to believe that he can. If the Patriots aren’t completely sold on Jacoby Brissett to be the primary backup to Brady and his eventual successor, it would make sense to retain Garoppolo.

Still, it’s hard to believe that there’s not any offer that could pry Garoppolo loose. If the Browns offer the 12th overall pick and perhaps something more, is New England going to remain so adamant about keeping him?

Trades can be completed beginning Thursday, the opening day of free agency. The negotiating window for free agents begins Tuesday, when agents can negotiate with teams, but no contracts can be completed (other than with the player’s last team) before Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.

New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

5. Expanded playoffs: There was a time a few years ago when the NFL seemed on the verge of expanding its annual playoff field from 12 to 14 teams. It would have meant seven teams in each conference in the postseason instead of six, one team in each conference with an opening-round bye instead of two, and a total of six first-round playoff games instead of four. One of those opening-round games likely would have been played on a Monday night.

The idea isn’t discussed much any longer. It seems to have fallen, at least for now, by the wayside.

“The college football playoff killed that,” a person familiar with the deliberations of the competition committee said.

6. Competition committee odds and ends: A few more tidbits from the competition committee’s deliberations last week in Indianapolis …

* As committee members mull the possibility of imposing an automatic ejection or suspension for certain illegal hits, instant replay considerations are part of the conversation. An automatic ejection probably would mean that the hit would have to be subject to replay review to lessen the chances of a player being ejected on an erroneous call. Given the committee’s long-standing objection to making such judgment calls by the on-field officials subject to replay scrutiny, that could lead the committee to favor an automatic suspension over an automatic ejection. That would give league officials time to study the hit before making a ruling. Either way, it is clear there is sentiment within the competition committee that fines for illegal hits aren’t enough in the most extreme cases and more needs to be done.

* Among the hits viewed by committee members last week during their discussion about automatic ejections or suspensions was the one by the Redskins’ Deshazor Everett on Philadelphia’s Darren Sproles as Sproles was preparing to catch the football on a punt return.

* New York Giants co-owner John Mara is a member of the competition committee. And yes, Mara said, there were several shots of Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during the committee’s discussions about illegal celebrations and the possibility of curbing enforcement in that area.

“We were showing video,” Mara said. “And yeah, his picture was on there.”

But Mara quickly added: “There were a lot of Antonio Brown videos in there, too.”

[NFLPA urges competition committee to ban field goal, extra point ‘leaps’]

* Quickening the pace of games is a major focus of the committee and the league office this offseason. The league would like to trim about seven minutes off the average time of games and get that figure down to an even three hours. At the Super Bowl, Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned measures such as bringing a tablet on the field for the referee to view replays, and utilizing a play clock after field goals and extra points to reduce down time before the ensuing kickoff.

* Individual teams have made a number of replay-related proposals. One would give each team three replay challenges per game (a team gets a third challenge only if it gets each of the first two correct). Another would give a team an unlimited number of challenges as long as it keeps getting them correct. Such proposals made by teams rarely are ratified by the owners minus the backing of the competition committee.

7. Giants’ spending: The Giants successfully remade their defense last offseason with an ambitious free agent spending spree. This time around, their offense needs attention. But Mara said the checks written this offseason won’t be as hefty.

“Obviously we struggled on offense last year,” Mara said. “But you go into free agency, it’s got to be the right guys. We’re obviously not going to be as aggressive as we were. We just don’t have the cap room. You can’t do that every year. And obviously putting the franchise tag on Jason [Pierre-Paul] takes a lot of our room away, too. But there’s still enough room for us to do some things that we want.”

8. Hits on Watson: Watson said the hits he absorbed by the Alabama defense during Clemson’s triumph in the national title game were a factor in his decision to skip the Senior Bowl.

“It took me a while,” he said of his recovery time. “I’m not gonna lie. It took me a while. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t participate in the Senior Bowl. But at the same time, if we had another game, I would tough it out and play.

“It wasn’t anything that I couldn’t play on. It was just I had to get back healthy and get back. The decision was based on me, my family, my agent and my trainer and all the coaching staff at Clemson. We came to a conclusion that it was best for me to sit out, get healthy and catch up on the process of this whole draft process and getting ready for the combine.”

[Is Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky or anyone else in this NFL draft class a franchise QB? It’s about time to begin finding out]

Watson’s stature as a big-game quarterback was cemented with his second straight brilliant title game performance.

“It happens, especially if you want to play for the national championship and run the system that we run,” he said. “You’re gonna take hits. You’re gonna take some blows, especially with teams like Ohio State and Alabama. They’re gonna come at you and they’re gonna apply the pressure and try to hit you and rattle you.”

9. Lynch’s experience: John Lynch is a first-time general manager. But as he and Coach Kyle Shanahan try to turn around the 49ers, he said he can draw on his experiences as a player with the Bucs in turning a downtrodden franchise into a Super Bowl champion.

“We always talked about we were much more commonly referred to as the ‘Yucks,’ ” Lynch said. “It wasn’t good. There was a culture of losing. The nice thing here [is] I don’t think there’s a culture of losing. There’s actually a culture of winning. They’ve had a couple bad years. And so it’s our job to get it back on top. But I’ve been a part of how you do that and been right in the middle of it. And I think that will prove invaluable.”

10. McVay and Goff: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the top overall selection in last year’s NFL draft, is working with quarterback tutor and throwing-mechanics guru Tom House this offseason.

Former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay, the 31-year-old head coach of the Rams, said he’s looking forward to getting his chance to work with Goff.

“One of the things you appreciate about Jared is he’s going about it in a way that he is working with Tom House and those guys who have a lot of respect in terms of the fundamentals, the technique of the position,” McVay said. “And then once we get Jared in the building, it’s gonna be about teaching him our system, seeing how he processes things, how he’s able to handle the above-the-neck information and then be able to translate it to the grass once we get out on the field. You see the traits.

“You see the characteristics. I’m really excited to see how he retains information, how it translates to the grass. But I’m very excited about Jared and some of the things that we see on tape from him.”

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