Market for Antonio Brown, Kyler Murray’s team interactions and more to watch as 2019 NFL League Year approaches

The 2019 NFL League Year does not officially begin until mid-March. But don’t be fooled, it’s already upon us. By Tuesday, pretty much every coach, scout, general manager and executive in the NFL will already be in Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine, which is essentially the kick-off to the business of football in 2019.

Sure, there have already been some big trades completed and no shortage of news since the Super Bowl wrapped up the 2018 campaign, but things are about to get even more busy now. In the next week every team in the league will be chatting with cohorts on other franchises about potential personnel moves, while at the same time meeting with agents for their own players, to get a final handle on cap casualties and which players will be willing to come back at a cheaper rate, and also to get a handle on the perspective markets for free agents they covet who are currently on other rosters.

This is when the seeds are planted for the next six months of roster shuffling and team building (or rebuilding, or tearing down), with meetings at hotels and bars and restaurants taking place more or less around the clock. Sure, there is plenty of focus on the 300-odd kids assembled to show their wares ahead of the 2019 draft, but there will be hundreds of NFL transactions that take place before a single name comes of the board in late April, and there are no shortage of intriguing plot lines and developments that will come out of Indianapolis between Tuesday and the end of the week.

Here is a primer on some of the things I will be paying the closest attention to as we creep closer to March and the official start of the NFL’s wide-scale free agency and trade window:

The market for Antonio Brown

Don’t get caught up on the hysteria and navel gazing about the number of teams who initially called to inquire about the All-Pro receiver. First of all, the Steelers don’t intend to deal him in the AFC, and the team has yet to make a single call shopping him, either. There will be ample time to talk to other clubs next week, and the combine has always been the Steelers target to truly ramp up the dialogue. Tell me why the Saints, Eagles, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers and Bears wouldn’t have some interest just for starters. And even though the Bucs are heavy on pass catchers, Bruce Arians is going to want to at least sniff around on a player he knows well from his time in Pittsburgh. Give this a little time to develop. The Steelers will have options and they won’t be giving this guy away.

Kyler Murray’s meetings

I don’t really care if he throws in this scripted practice session or not. And, frankly, neither do most NFL teams. What is far more important for the likely top 10 pick – yeah I believe in two months this won’t be in question – is his interactions with NFL decision makers. Remember, he was an afterthought in scouting circles as teams went through Oklahoma, with baseball his future. Now teams need to make up for lost time and do their homework on him. If he sends the right signals about his mindset and motivations and ambitions and plans, his stock will steadily soar between now and April. I am obviously betting on that being the case.

Raiders offseason intentions

Oakland holds the keys to this draft with its three first-round picks this year and a bounty beyond this year as well. Does Jon Gruden start falling in love with a college QB in Indy? They had plenty of other veterans on the trading block in-season, and could shop guys like Rodney Hudson and Kalechi Osemele at the combine – remaking their OL through the draft. Do teams inquire about Derek Carr? With at least one more year being spent in football purgatory before their move to Las Vegas, Gruden will be at the center of myriad conversations this week.

Other things to watch for

  • Le’Veon Bell‘s market: I continue to get the distinct impression there will be 3-4 teams tops who really go deep on the running back who skipped all of 2018, and that his dream of landing a top-market slot WR deal ($16M-$17M per year) will be unfulfilled. Besides the Jets, maybe the Bucs or Eagles get involved, but I am a skeptical he gets more than $12M per year or anywhere close to the $50M in guarantees he is seeking. Does a proverbial mystery team emerge? And if so, is it real, or the figment of someone’s imagination?
  • Are the Seahawks and Russell Wilson talking? He is entering his walk year and these sides have never had a single conversation about an extension. It’s been under-the-radar for a while, but now other teams are starting to really take notice and ask questions. With a new CBA on the horizon and billions in gambling revenue perhaps on the horizon and new TV deals, if I represented a QB of this magnitude I would wait it all out and see if two franchise tags set me up to obliterate Kirk Cousins‘ record contract in a few years. The Packers couldn’t wait to extend Aaron Rodgers and ditto the Falcons and Matt Ryan and now the Steelers are calling a Big Ben extension basically a fait accompli. Will it be the same in Seattle?  
  • Who gets cut? Has Gerald McCoy played his last snap in Tampa? Is there a trade market for guys like DeSean Jackson or Josh Norman or Everson Griffen or Nelson Agholor or Olivier Vernon, who may have worn out their welcome and/or priced themselves out with their current contracts?
  • Nick Foles to anywhere but Jacksonville: I still have yet to hear anything reliable about any team other than the Jags being interested in Foles. And I don’t envision this market expanding much, although if it was ever going to, it would be this week. The Eagles are playing a dangerous game of chicken if they apply the franchise tag. The Dolphins seem to be in full rebuild and shedding contracts, not adding. Teams loaded up on QBs a year ago. Maybe I’m missing something, but this may be Jacksonville or bust.
  • Is a market correction coming at WR? A year ago marginal, non-starting receivers were getting $7M-$12M a year on the open market in a bizarre feeding frenzy, and above average wideouts were getting $16M a year. How long will it go on? This is a weak group of pass catchers overall, and a year after seeing the safety market collapse I wonder if teams show more restraint with WRs this year. Will have a better feel for the market after the combine.
  • Whose stock is on the rise? Ed Oliver was very much in the conversation for top overall pick when the college football season began. Then the star DT has a slow start and some injury issues and a ridiculous kerfuffle over wearing a jacket on the sidelines (oh, the curse of the megalomaniacal college coach!) … But he has a chance to change the narrative the next two months and I suspect he begins to do just that in Indy. In a defensive-dominated top 10, I believe Oliver will make a strong push.
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