By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The NFL’s biggest pre-draft event has passed and as it typically does the NFL Combine came through to provide a weekend plus filled with news, starting with the continued ruminations over Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray being at the top of the list.
Lots of players helped their draft stock and put up some gaudy numbers in Indianapolis. The other juicy part of the combine is the gathering of team personnel, agents, coaches and general managers as rumor mills swirl and big potential deals can be made and some big news regarding players in free agency came up.
The Chicago Bears made a little bit of news as well when both general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy spoke to the media from the combine. The new league year starts in exactly one week (March 13th) and at that time free agency will begin, a month later teams will be conducting off-season workouts and less than a month after that is the draft.
Its almost time for the NFL to wake up from its short slumber with a lot of big stories to tell very soon.
Both Pace and Nagy spoke to the media at the combine — both men were personable enough but not a lot of information came out of the talks other than a couple interesting tidbits.
The juiciest news was the confirmation of a report that the Bears will be releasing kicker Cody Parkey. Pace told the media that simply it was a performance-based decision as to why Parkey is being let go. Pace also addressed the plan to replace Parkey by exploring every option in free agency and the draft. The Bears may bring in two kickers into training camp to settle the position with competition.
Pace was also asked about his own free agents in both safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan, he believes it is still possible for the team to bring back both players. On the injury front, Pace informed everyone that receiver Anthony Miller underwent shoulder surgery after the season and he may be limited in off-season workouts. Miller dealt with a partially separated shoulder almost all season a year ago.
Nagy mainly spoke about the team and the mentality of the team as he believes that the players in the locker room are hungry and ready for this upcoming season. Nagy also talked about the team’s motivation from the loss to the Eagles in the playoffs being similar to the motivation the team had all season after the shocking loss in Week 1 against the Packers last September.
The Bears come into this latest dealing period with very few holes to fill and seemingly will be a tough team for anyone to play. A huge free agency period and draft awaits the Bears brass.
The NFL Combine, or the Underwear Olympics as some would call it, is a hard event to really judge. Mainly, the combine mainly gives teams a chance to interview prospects, get full medical evaluations and all types of measurables.
The trouble that teams get into at the combine is by falling too much in love with the measurables since the setting of the combine is not a traditional football environment. Players running around in shorts will be different than those same players in pads but the Combine is a very useful tool when used properly. Enter in Kyler Murray because this quarterback is quite the enigma.
Murray came in with questions about his size and if teams will fall in love with his unique potential. The basic summary was a quarterback standing about 5’10” with a frame of about 200 pounds and average hand size. Murray passed the test by being average enough with his measurables that NFL people were concerned about, and he still has all the tantalizing skills with his legs and arm.
Reports have come out saying that the Cardinals are falling in love with Murray and he may become the top overall pick in the draft. Murray fits the type of quarterback that new Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury is looking for. Some other players who’s efforts jumped out over the combine was receiver D.K. Metcalf, defensive end Montez Sweat (Sweat set a record in the 40 for lineman with a 4.41) and defensive end Quinnen Williams.
The prospects that did not have a good combine will certainly lose some positioning in the draft process but pro days can help recoup some lost stock value. Teams will be heavy in setting up their draft boards after all the information received from the combine.
Some big news came out of the combine period outside of the measurables of the top prospects. Quarterback Nick Foles is expected to sign with the Jaguars once free agency begins. This can only be classified as a huge move by the Jaguars who were in the AFC Championship as recently as January 2018, just falling short to the Patriots.
The following season was tough for the Jaguars as they missed the playoffs and went from a 10-6 record in 2017 to 5-11 this past season. The Jaguars have a promising defense and a Pro Bowl caliber running back in Leonard Fournette with a good offensive line. The only thing the Jaguars are missing is a quarterback to lead them forward.
Clearly the contract given to quarterback Blake Bortles prior to the 2018 season was a mistake by the team. Bortles’ play wasn’t consistent enough and far too often looked overmatched but perhaps his biggest flaw was his leadership. Bortles wasn’t able to be the leader of the offense let alone the team and it cost the Jaguars greatly.
Foles has been quite the story the past two years in important games for Philadelphia and one thing stands out above the rest of his good qualities –his leadership. The Eagles players respected Foles and played hard for him, the team raved about him as a leader. This move helps the Jaguars out instantly and perhaps propels them back into the elites of the AFC.
Other notes that merit attention are the franchise tags placed on some of the top free agents of this class, including Houston linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, Dallas defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Kansas City edge rusher Dee Ford and Seattle defensive end Frank Clark. There should still be lots of options for teams looking to pursue talented defensive players but all of these five were once considered to be top potential targets in free agency.
Finally, the ongoing news about Antonio Brown is still all rumors and speculation, but Monday Ian Rapoport tweeted out some news he heard from the combine.
Brown’s movement could produce mass waves in the NFL depending on the team that can put together the right offer then pull the trigger. Brown took part in an ESPN interview that aired over the weekend detailing his perspective between himself and the Steelers. Brown and his teammates had a strange relationship from his point of view.
Lots of transactions are forthcoming in the NFL that could change the dynamic of the league for quite a while and Brown’s remains at the top of the list.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR