Only in Indianapolis will you see scouts, coaches, and executives dining next to college basketball cheerleaders. Such is the case in Indy this week as the NFL Combine and the Big Ten Women’s Basketball tournament take place within a few blocks of each other. The league’s rumor mill is churning; here are the top stories from this week in Indianapolis:
Depending on who you ask, you’ll receive a different answer as to the landing spot of free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. Word on the street in Indianapolis, from what I’ve gathered, is this will be at least a three-horse race for the signal caller. Cousins’ preference has been to play in Denver, however the recent personnel decisions by the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets have indicated that they will both heavily pursue Cousins. The Jets on Thursday released Muhammad Wilkerson, further building their cap room in hopes of offering Cousins an enormous contract that is simply too great to refuse. After not tagging Case Keenum, and making public comments that would suggest neither Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, nor Sam Bradford will return, Minnesota has put themselves in position to make a play for Cousins as well. If Cousins opts to sign in Denver or Minnesota, it’s nearly certain that he’d be leaving money on the table from the Jets, who are strongly considered to be willing to out-bid the other two teams. With just under two weeks until free agency, it’s going to be very interesting to see who can woo the free agent quarterback, whose camp has been preparing for this opportunity for quite a while.
Rarely do you hear of a running back being considered as the consensus top prospect in the NFL Draft, however Saquon Barkley is exactly that. Among the cleanest and most well-rounded prospects that I’ve seen in the past decade, Barkley’s playmaking ability to take over the game in three different facets (running, receiving, returning) makes him a rare, generational talent who will be a star in the NFL if he stays healthy. The Cleveland Browns, who own the No. 1 & No. 4 picks in the draft, are almost assuredly one of the favorites to take Barkley. Ironically, the last time a running back went No. 1 overall was Ki-Jana Carter, also of Penn State, 23-years ago in 1995. While Carter’s NFL career didn’t go quite as planned, Barkley is the most complete running back prospect that I’ve evaluated over the past 10 drafts, and as we get closer to the draft, I would predict we will hear more about Barkley going No. 1 overall. While quarterbacks traditionally move to the top of boards as we head closer to late-April, Barkley is such a rare athlete, and such a better prospect than each of the quarterbacks in the draft, that it’d be incredibly difficult for me to pass on a player of his caliber, regardless of who I have at the quarterback position.
I can’t remember a time when the quarterback market churned as loudly as it is right now. Between free agency and the draft, almost half of the teams in the NFL will have a new starting quarterback next season. From what I’ve found, most teams with a strong need plan to aggressively use free agency to find their guy, whether that be Cousins, A.J. McCarron, Keenum, Bradford, Josh McCown, or Bridgewater, or even a trade for Nick Foles. For teams that are rebuilding, the draft remains the best bet to strike it rich, and I’d expect that to remain the standard for teams like Cleveland, Arizona, and Miami, who are all looking to draft a young signal caller to build around. The Buffalo Bills are primed with two first round picks at No. 21 & 22 to make a big trade up the draft order to grab their quarterback of the future.
On Thursday afternoon, the annual agent seminar was set ablaze by angry agents who view the NFLPA as attempting to thin out the ranks of the agent industry. During Thursday’s seminar, according to people in attendance, agents were given the opportunity to step up and speak in front of their peers, and many did, causing an uproar among the agent industry as to the tactics that have been used and put in place by the NFLPA. Nearly every agent in the industry will admit that they hate the Players Association’s decision to force every agent to take a new annual “continuing education exam” to ensure they are still caught up on the rules of the league. For most agents, they view this as a waste of time and resources by the NFLPA, who are hoping to use the test to reduce the number of agents in the business, which has skyrocketed over the past decade as the league has continued to gain popularity. As I wrote last month, the agent industry has become corrupt due to the declining fees and the enormous financial investment that must be made in order to sign players in today’s game. While it’s unclear whether changes will be coming, there is zero question that the morale in the agent industry is not great right now.
In conjunction with Inside the League, The Scouting Network (TSN) debuted on Wednesday night in front of 100+ attendees at ITL’s annual seminar. Designed to bring scouts together and to provide tools and information for those in the industry, we were thrilled with the turnout. We were equally excited with the opportunity to award the first annual “Best NFL Draft Class” to the New Orleans Saints, for their star-studded draft class last spring. Assistant GM Jeff Ireland accepted the award on behalf of the Saints and took time to answer plenty of questions from the crowd. As the Combine winds down, we will be releasing more information and news on things coming up for TSN.