Gregg Rosenthal is writing daily Debriefs during the week of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. This edition hits on the possibility of one high-profile player hitting the open market, along with some other potential comings and goings.
INDIANAPOLIS — NFL decision-makers often make news from the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine for what they don’t say. And Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim did not say that safety Tyrann Mathieu will be part of the team in 2018.
The future of Honey Badger is in question during business season on the NFL calendar because, like many players, he has a key option in his contract coming up. Unlike others who could hit free agency, however, Mathieu is young, coming off a season where he led the league in total snaps and could be willing to bet on himself if the Cardinals choose not to pick up an option that guarantees him $19 million over the next two seasons.
“It’s a gamble and I’m taking all bets…. if I lose I vow to make it all back,” Mathieu cryptically wrote Tuesday on Twitter. And the 25-year-old offered additional commentary Wednesday:
It’s a business ?? https://t.co/1l5OPGuGOq
Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era)
February 28, 2018
I interpret those tweets as possibly meaning that Mathieu and his representatives could be unwilling to renegotiate the deal and take a pay cut in order to stay in Arizona. It’s hard to blame him for his confidence: If Mathieu is indeed released, he’ll be one of the top 10 unrestricted free agents available. Wednesday’s comments from Keim only bolstered the belief that the two sides could be headed for a staredown.
“What we’re doing right now with our coaching staff is looking not only at Tyrann but every player, and see how they fit,” Keim said when I asked whether the Cardinals are expecting Mathieu to be on the roster. “So how do they fit (with) what we’re asking them to do schematically, but (also) where they fit from a salary standpoint — all those things moving forward.
“There’s a lot of moving parts — what we’re potentially going to do in free agency, how that affects our cap situation — and I feel like we have a pretty good grasp on that.”
This would not have been a difficult question two seasons ago, before the Cardinals handed Mathieu a five-year contract. Mathieu was a transformative talent on and off the field, such a cornerstone that Arizona gave him a $62.5 million deal after his second torn ACL. But the Cardinals have since drafted safety Budda Baker, whom Keim called a “budding star” on Wednesday. Mathieu also lost a supporter and mentor in former coach Bruce Arians.
“You take a loss, then you have to embrace it,” Mathieu wrote after seeing Keim’s comments in Indy.
On a frantic day where we got a better idea of many potential veteran comings and goings throughout the league, it sure sounded like Mathieu could be headed elsewhere.
Who else could be on the move? Staying put? Let’s read some tea leaves, reacting to what was said Wednesday:
Signs point to staying
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: The smoke behind Gronkowski’s disenchantment with the Patriots and life as an NFL player only grew in recent days, with a report that Gronk considered walking away from football before training camp last year. That makes NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport’s report Wednesday that Gronk is expected to play in 2018 even more notable. Gronk’s status appears to be a year-to-year proposition already.
Lamarcus Joyner, S, and Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay said that bringing back Joyner was a “huge priority,” furthering speculation that the team could use the franchise tag on him.
“He kind of represents a lot of the things that are right about your locker room and what you want guys to embody from a football-character standpoint, the way they attack every single day. Lamarcus is someone who is very important,” McVay said.
While McVay also stated he wanted to bring back wide receiver Sammy Watkins, it will be difficult to sign both Joyner and Watkins. McVay believed Watkins was crucial to how the Rams’ offensive pieces “fit together,” but his salary demands figure to go beyond just being a piece to the puzzle.
The Rams have to make priorities, and getting Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald a new contract must be higher on the list than paying Watkins. McVay said the Rams will meet with Donald’s representatives in Indianapolis to talk about a new deal.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jaguars coach Doug Marrone volunteered the franchise tag as a potential resource in keeping Robinson in town. General manager David Caldwell said that Jacksonville has enough cap space to keep him. Free agent Marqise Lee, on the other hand, sounded like an afterthought in the team’s plans. I expect Lee to reach free agency.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Marshawn Lynch, RB, and Bruce Irvin, OLB, Oakland Raiders: Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s endlessly entertaining press conference Wednesday contained more news than most. He was rather definitive on the futures of Crabtree, Lynch and Irvin being important members of the team. (There was speculation the team could move on from any one of them.)
“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch,” Gruden said. “I’m counting on him. I’m counting on him being a big part of our football team.”
Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles: In what will be a month of difficult decisions for the Eagles, general manager Howie Roseman made it clear that his highly accomplished left tackle will not be a candidate for a trade or release.
“Jason Peters is a Hall of Fame player,” Roseman said. “When you go back and look at our season and look at his reps, he was dominant. He wasn’t just good, he was dominant.”
Roseman sent a message to Eagles fans — and possibly his players — by letting them know the team’s salary cap situation can be managed.
“We’re not on short sale, we’re comfortable with our roster, our flexibility to make moves we have to make,” Roseman said. “We are not going to make decisions, get rid of good players because of our cap situation.”
With all that said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles listen to trade offers for veterans like defensive end Vinny Curry and linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
“It’s not like we can bring the band back together and expect the same results,” Roseman said, on the risk of getting too sentimental.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: GM Kevin Colbert said he has fielded trade inquiries about Bryant, but the team isn’t interested in dealing him. While that could be public posturing to drive up Bryant’s price, Colbert is generally a straight shooter with the media. If he says the team wants to keep Bryant, I believe him.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos: John Elway said that the team “planned” to bring back both veteran wideouts despite high price tags and will pick up the option in Thomas’ contract.
‘For sale’ sign up
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills: Sean McDermott confirmed Buffalo won’t release Taylor, but the Bills coach was far from definitive that Taylor would be the team’s 2018 starting quarterback. It’s fair to say the Bills are evaluating the market and Taylor’s place in it. They sound ready to listen to potential offers for the 28-year-old QB, but also comfortable keeping him if the right deal (or right quarterback replacement) doesn’t come along.
I couldn’t help but think of Taylor when Cardinals coach Steve Wilks emphasized that the team will examine every avenue in finding a potential quarterback, mentioning a potential trade first.
Signs point to divorce
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins: Dolphins coach Adam Gase said that he’d like Landry on the team next season, if possible. This is not what you normally hear about a player who just got the franchise tag. Most tags are given with the assumption that the player is staying put. Gase couched all his comments about Landry as if his status was uncertain, only furthering the belief that Landry is available to the highest bidder in a potential trade.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: When asked about Peterson, Keim complimented the future Hall of Famer before noting that versatility is vital in running backs. Wilks went out of his way to avoid a question about Peterson.
Dontari Poe, DT, and Taylor Gabriel, WR, Atlanta Falcons: General manager Thomas Dimitroff said that he expects both players to hit free agency, and implied the team wouldn’t be able to afford what Poe commands. Dimitroff said the Falcons will be more focused on getting long-term deals done with some of their homegrown players like DT Grady Jarrett and OT Jake Matthews.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys: Either the Cowboys are potentially ready to move on from Bryant or they are trying to make the 29-year-old wideout think they are ready to do so. Coach Jason Garrett was asked plainly if he wanted Bryant on the Cowboys in 2018 and responded by saying the team hadn’t had any meetings yet on the future of players like Bryant.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was in the impossible position of talking about three impending Vikings free-agent quarterbacks, with everyone in the audience believing that the team prizes another team’s quarterback (Kirk Cousins) above them all.
Spielman thus ate up his press conference time with a long introductory statement and chewed on any non-quarterback question possible. Spielman emphasized that the Vikings “have more information” on Teddy Bridgewater than any interested team, which will impact their potential offer for him. But it’s unclear whether that’s a positive thing for Teddy’s chances of getting a starting-caliber offer or not.
Quarterback contract benchmarks loom
General managers who have franchise quarterbacks might be following Kirk Cousins almost as closely as the GMs looking for a signal-caller.
“Oh, we are very, very aware of what’s going on,” Dimitroff said following the recent record-setting deal for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Dimitroff wants to get Matt Ryan signed to a new contract before the 2018 season, but it sounds like he understands it will be difficult to make happen before Cousins presumably resets the market. If Cousins can land a deal north of $30 million per year, it should only be a matter of time before Ryan and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers top Cousins.
“When you have the best player in the National Football League, it’s not going to be inexpensive,” new Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said.
(There’s one quote you’d never hear former Packers GM Ted Thompson say.)
News we expected
Ryan Shazier will not play in 2018: Colbert announced the news Wednesday, a sobering bit of reality that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed Shazier’s recovery from a spinal-cord injury. Shazier has publicly expressed hope of playing football again, but that clearly will be a long-term process with rehabilitation being the linebacker’s primary focus in the coming months.
Matt Forte retires: The timing feels fitting for a player defined partly by how much he’s been overlooked throughout his career. The NFL leader in yards from scrimmage since getting drafted out of Tulane, Forte should get some Hall of Fame consideration eventually. It would have helped his case considerably if he played with better quarterbacks.
Jets release Muhammad Wilkerson: Still just 28 years old, Wilkerson will be an intriguing boom-or-bust option for interested teams in free agency. Now ranked No. 21 on our Top 101 free agents list, Wilkerson’s motivation will have to be vetted after a deeply disappointing 2017 campaign with the Jets.
Bears will release Mike Glennon: This ghost of free agency past will join the free-agent market at quarterback, a cautionary tale to any team looking to pay an untested backup (AJ McCarron?) big money. With that said, Glennon will still probably get a decent deal to be some team’s No. 2, possibly back in Tampa.
Panthers release Jonathan Stewart: In a move that probably happened one year too late, the Panthers continued to clear the decks of pricey, aging veterans.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.