INDIANAPOLIS -- When John Schneider says, "We're open to listening to anything," you should take him as his word. And, trust me, other NFL teams are doing just that.
The Seattle Seahawks came into this combine as one of the most intriguing teams of this 2018 offseason, hampered by some injuries and cap issues, but with the willingness and wherewithal to get creative in addressing their needs. And, as the weekend begins in Indianapolis and the chatter intensifies, they've done nothing to sway that perception.
Schneider, the team's shrewd and fairly fearless general manager, is very much open for business and eager to transition his roster, and that will manifest itself with several trades. He and Pete Carroll have never shied away from blockbuster swaps before, and I expect they move at least two of their trio of aging star defenders: Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman.
"We are going to be in every deal," Schneider said Friday during his media press conference, repeating an opus well known around the league.. "And then you want to be able to walk away ... You don't want to miss any opportunity."
It remains to be seen what Schneider can obtain for some of what comprised the core of his Super Bowl teams, but the will is there. They won't get much for Bennett, but I get the strong sense they'll take a draft pick and then look to bolster the defensive line with a free agent (Muhammad Wilkerson, for starters, would make a lot of sense).
They won't give away Earl Thomas, however; they'll demand some value there with one year left on the perennial Pro Bowler's deal at a manageable $8.5 million. And in the end I suspect they can land a few Day 2 picks to get something done. At this point I'd be quite surprised if Thomas was not moved.
The Seahawks have reached a phase where they have to determine who is worthy of another top-dollar contract with enough upside to merit it, and they have to re-shuffle their resources -- i.e., they have can't have this much money and cap space tied up in the secondary. And make no mistake, that process is underway. Cutting Jeremy Lane and potentially trading Thomas and Bennett for picks creates roughly $20 million in cap space to use on younger free agents (including potentially two of their own: receiver Paul Richardson and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson).
Getting anything at all for Sherman, given his recent injuries, may prove impossible, and he could be an asset in teaching this system and techniques to some of the younger defensive backs the team will invariably bring in. Bottom line is Schneider wants to be flexible with his roster, and that starts with an initial purge of players for picks (or for young players still on their rookie contracts). He is one of the NFL's ultimate dealmakers and a guy other teams enjoy negotiating with because of his upfront and frank style.
Finding a successor to Flacco
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti seemed to publicly close the door on his team using a significant pick to tab Joe Flacco's potential replacement in this year's draft a few weeks back at his end-of-season press conference. But with each passing day in Indianapolis I become more convinced the Ravens may indeed invest a high pick on a passer.
They haven't been among the more active teams exploring decent backup quarterback options, and it's well know that Flacco's contract is one they can -- and almost certainly will -- untangle themselves from in 2019. So while Bisciotti was discounting the notion of them being a factor in this quarterback draft class, I continue to hear that they very well could use a top pick on a quarterback if the right guy is there. I wouldn't rule much out at this point -- it's most likely they land a pass catcher with the 16th pick -- and the Ravens are doing considerable work on this group of rookie quarterbacks.
Flacco, who has dealt with injuries the past two years, has massive cap numbers, and restructuring his contract next year would be kicking an expensive can down the road. With Eric DeCosta taking over as general manager next year, it makes sense for him to do whatever he believes makes sense to insure the most important position in team sports, and with many believing at least five quarterbacks will go in the first round, Baltimore may have to be more proactive that many would anticipate.
You would have to think Ozzie Newsome would like nothing more than for his final draft before retirement to provide the franchise he loves so much with its quarterback for the next decade or more.
Barkley blowing the doors off Indianapolis
It's obviously still early in the process, but the breakout star of this combine so far is Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Everything he has said and done has wowed the scouts and evaluators, from his interviews with teams to his bench press to his fame film.
"This kid is a rock star," said a top executive with one team picking in the top 10 who has met with him. "Whoever takes him gets an absolute stud on the field and in the locker room from Day 1."
It's not out of the question in the least that Barkley is the first non-quarterback drafted even despite the recent trend of downgrading the running back position and even with this draft having no shortage of Day 2 options at that position.
More insider notes from the NFL combine
- Anticipate a bidding war between the Bears and Chiefs over backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Both teams have a staff with strong ties to him, and while the Saints love Daniel, too, his price might be too steep for them considering what they are about to dole out to Drew Brees.
- Some executives I spoke too could see Dontari Poe staying in the NFC South, moving south from Atlanta to Tampa Bay. He put up strong film with the Falcons last year on a prove-it deal and the Skins, Broncos and Colts are among those who would have interest.