Rejoice! The Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl win is now officially ancient history—you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s now time to look forward: The 2019 NFL combine is already here, and a rotating cast of Ringer staffers will provide you with a collection of five thoughts from each day in Indianapolis.
1. Kyler Murray’s Thursday measurements were favorable for the reigning Heisman Trophy Winner.
Murray’s height and weight were among the biggest questions coming into this year’s combine, and the diminutive Oklahoma QB checked in at 5-foot-10 and ⅛ inches on Thursday, dispelling some of the concerns that his listed height of 5-foot-10 with the Sooners had been exaggerated. Murray also weighed in at 207 pounds, 12 pounds more than his listed weight at OU and about 20 pounds more than his expected playing weight last fall. Aside from being a win for under-6-feet-tall men everywhere, Murray’s measurements have several other consequences.
Murray’s official height could assuage lingering doubts about his viability as an NFL prospect. He’s still the second shortest QB to come through the combine in the past 20 years, but he’s at least within range of guys who’ve proven that they can play in the league (including fellow Heisman winner and OU predecessor Baker Mayfield). Murray’s potential should ultimately be judged on his ability as a player, which he’s already proven. But there’s no doubt that a few more traditional NFL decision-makers likely perked up when they heard that Murray’s frame—in terms of both length and bulk—is fairly comparable to Russell Wilson’s. Every year, people say that testing at the combine is more about clearing a baseline than making huge leaps up the draft board. Murray accomplished that on Thursday.
The only remaining long-term concern here is whether the 20 or so pounds of bulk that Murray tacked on these past two months will end up being a sustainable weight. If Murray chooses not to run the 40-yard dash on Saturday, it could be a sign that he isn’t quite comfortable moving at 207 pounds and plans to drop some of that mass before his rookie season begins. Again, that’s a relatively minor concern for any team that’s already smitten with Murray’s talent, but some evaluators will have it in mind as they go through the draft process.
2. Word around Indianapolis is that the Cowboys plan to be very aggressive in shelling out money on their own players this spring.
Dallas is always an early fixture in the offseason rumor mill, and thanks to all the pressing decisions that Jerry Jones and Co. have to make this spring, that’s only ramped up in 2019. The expectation is that Jones and the front office will do all they can to keep free-agent defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, whether that be via a second consecutive franchise tag or a long-term extension that would make Lawrence one of the highest-paid defensive players in football. Amari Cooper is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will likely be looking at a long-term extension, an outcome that’s been all but certain since the Cowboys traded a first-round pick for the receiver in October. Combine those contracts with inevitable extensions for running back Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott (and a possible multi-year deal for cornerback Byron Jones), and Dallas is looking at one expensive offseason.
The natural follow-up question now is: How the heck is that plan even possible? Dallas has already committed huge contracts to its three All-Pro offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick). If Lawrence, Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper all receive extensions with cap numbers of at least $10 million, that would give the Cowboys nine players with cap hits of at least eight figures this season. Despite that scary prospect, though, all those extensions could be doable with the right cap gymnastics. Sean Lee’s $10.1 million hit would have to be renegotiated, and a few other money-saving cuts would have to be made, but Dallas could theoretically keep all five players at market-setting money if the deals come with smaller base salaries in the first year and escalating figures that take advantage of the NFL’s continuously growing salary cap. In Cooper’s case, an extension could even bring his 2019 cap number down from where it’s slated to be right now ($13.9 million). For some teams, the thought of paying out that much real cash in such a short period of time might seem daunting, but that’s the benefit of being the Cowboys.
If Dallas does decide to go that route, it’ll be left with very little wiggle room to make other changes to the roster—like adding safety Earl Thomas in free agency. Thomas and the Cowboys have been linked together for years, and it’s no secret that both sides would like to make a deal happen. At this point, the Cowboys would probably have to choose between an extension for Jones and a long-term deal with Thomas, but stranger things have happened with this team ...
3. Like coaxing Jason Witten out of the Monday Night Football booth and back to the NFL!
I wouldn’t blame anyone who saw that news on Thursday and thought it was a hoax. It’s hard to know where to even start with this one. Witten will reportedly get a $3.5 million base salary with a max of $5 million after incentives. Handing that type of money to a 37-year-old tight end who just sat out a season seems like an odd use of resources for a team that’s poised to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in new contracts, but don’t tell the Cowboys that. Tight end is a glaring need for Dallas’s roster, but instead of finding new talent in the draft or free agency, the team is filling that need with a guy in his late 30s who had trouble moving around two years ago. More than his on-field impact, this move seems like a way to get Witten back in the Cowboys’ orbit. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that some in the Dallas organization feel that Witten is a prime candidate to eventually become an NFL head coach, and this move could serve as a “bridge” to get Witten back in the world of professional football.
By returning to the Cowboys, Witten also gets a smooth divorce from ESPN after a rough first season as an announcer, and the network gets another shot to fill its most important color analyst slot after a very public misstep. The typical names will likely be thrown around as potential Witten replacements—such as Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner—but it’s tough to imagine someone like Manning accepting the job just a year after turning it down. No matter who ends up filling the role, though, this appears to be the best possible outcome for both sides. It sure pays to be one of Jerry Jones’s guys.
4. D.K. Metcalf and Marquise Brown are arguably the two best receivers in this draft, and their body types couldn’t be more different.
The wide receiver group always makes for fascinating draft evaluations because, more than any other position, the best players can come in any shape and size: For example, Antonio Brown (5-foot-10, 186 pounds) and Julio Jones (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) are the two most dominant receivers of their era. Metcalf and “Hollywood” Brown represent that disparity within a single draft class, and I’ll be curious to see which potential first-round pick teams prefer come draft day.
Murray may have had the most publicized size concerns of any player in the draft, but compared to the rest of his position, Brown’s stature may actually be more worrisome. He measured 5-foot-9 ⅜ and 166 pounds on Thursday, and since 2000, only four receivers weighing less than 170 pounds have ever finished with more than 300 receiving yards in a season: J.J. Nelson, Taylor Gabriel, Dexter McCluster, and Roscoe Parrish. And while the speedsters Nelson and Gabriel have been useful role players, neither was considered an elite prospect like Brown. Brown’s stature issues may also be compounded by a lingering Lisfranc injury that will keep him from working out in Indianapolis. Midfoot sprains are troubling for any player that relies on speed, and considering his frame, that looks like the only path to productivity for Brown.
Metcalf, on the other hand, is about as physically imposing as a receiver can be. The Ole Miss product measured 6-foot-3 ⅜ and 228 pounds, confirming that the superhero-like photos of him that have circulated around social media are no joke. In Metcalf, teams would be getting a rare blend of height, weight, and speed, but they’d also be taking a chance on a receiver that isn’t as polished in his route running and overall technique. Both Brown and Metcalf have their flaws; it just so happens that, for players at the same position, their flaws are vastly different.
5. The Vikings are going all in to help Kirk Cousins.
Mike Zimmer talked at length on Thursday about the influence that new offensive coaches Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison will have on the Vikings’ offense—and those changes serve to benefit Cousins. Kubiak came to Minneapolis as an offensive advisor earlier this year, and since his arrival, Zimmer said he’s been fascinated by stories of how Bill Walsh’s offense evolved into the system that Mike Shanahan (and Kubiak) eventually implemented in Denver. Neither Kubiak nor Dennison has ever coached Cousins directly, but their familiarity with the Shanahan-inspired system that Cousins ran under Kyle Shanahan and Jay Gruden in Washington could help the Vikings implement concepts that brought the quarterback success with the Redskins.
As the Vikings offensive line coach, Dennison is likely to install an outside zone–heavy running game that pairs well with a passing game heavily reliant on play-action. Cousins has been one of the most effective play-action passers in the league during his career, and along with reintroducing schemes that have served him well in the past, it also sounds like a lot of the terminology Minnesota will use this season resembles the verbiage that Cousins used in Washington. The Vikings are doing all they can to get the most out of their $84 million investment, and that includes employing veteran coaches well versed in one of the sport’s most effective offensive systems.