On Saturday, the NFL sent out a memo telling agents they’d have no in-person contact with their clients at the Scouting Combine. Now, they’re fighting back.
The NFL has a problem. A big one, in the form of a hoard of angry agents.
On Saturday, the league released a memo detailing a bubble around the participants in next week’s NFL Scouting Combine. The information stated players will only be allowed one medical support person but otherwise must stay in secure, approved venues and only interact with fully vaccinated individuals approved by the league.
Such a sudden change in protocol less than two weeks from the event’s start has agents furious. After years of forming cohesive plans including trainers, medical and nutrition teams for prospects, everything has been thrust into chaos. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, many are considering boycotting their clients from on-field workouts, testing and interviews as a result.
On Sunday night, FanSided reached out to a litany of agents asking them for their comments on the situation.
“It makes an already difficult week even more difficult and sets up the players for failure,” said one agent who represents multiple NFL stars. “Your tests and times stay with you forever but teams don’t put a star next to it and ‘well it was under hard circumstances.’ The combine has always taken advantage of the players but this shows the league really doesn’t care about the best product and environment possible. Just money.”
Another was more amenable to the NFL’s idea, but loathed the timing.
“Bubble concept is understandable especially since you have a few hundred guys coming off (planes),” texted one longtime agent. “However, they needed to let everyone know like two months ago. Combine needs an overhaul!!”
The same agent continued to vent about the structure of the event, annoyed that doctors evaluating players have no limit on how many they can see. He’d prefer three at most, while also advocating for moving the combine to a venue with a grass field. The current building, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, has synthetic field turf.
A third agent also responded via text, laying into the league for continuously prioritizing greed over the good of its athletes and their ability to perform.
“The NFL is ridiculous,” said the source. “Their only motivation is money. Not following science. Not what makes sense. And certainly not players health. Which we know because they have a rich history of zero care for what’s best for players. What’s crazy is having an ex-player behind this.”
Continuing, he became the second agent in minutes to text about why the combine needs to undergo serious, long-lasting changes including revamped schedules for players in an effort to improve their performances.
It’s unclear if the looming boycott will force the NFL to reconsider. However, stubbornness may result in angry sponsors and a comparatively poor product to years past. As always, money and optics garner attention and, when necessary, can force change.
“There is power in numbers, because there always has been,” said one prominent agent. “If enough of the top players threaten to boycott, the NFL will take it very seriously. Remember, they have switched all of the events to the night to make this a major on-field production, and it’s very tough to sell a major on-field production without the stars.”
The NFL made a power play. The agents are unifying to strike back. The NFL is now on the clock.
Top 10 teams in desperate need of upgrade at QB
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Washington Commanders
6. Denver Broncos
7. Detroit Lions
8. New York Giants
9. Indianapolis Colts
10. Tennessee Titans
“I think that just depends on whether they ask me. I’m not going in and knocking on doors saying, ‘Hey, I want this done, I want that done.’ But I’m pretty sure that my opinion will be valued in certain decisions, as I hope. So with that being said, just plan on helping this team get better in every which way I can.”
– Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on being involved with personnel decisions
After signing a four-year, $160 million deal last offseason, Prescott’s input should be courted. He’s the most important player on the team, and in regard to offensive weaponry, deserves a phone call before any decisions are made final. While owner/general manager Jerry Jones will always have final say, the Cowboys should take the thoughts and opinions of their franchise star.
Patrick Mahomes has never lost a road game in the AFC West. He’s 13-0 against the Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers in their buildings.
Info learned this week
1. Kyler Murray’s statement does little to calm storm around him
The Arizona Cardinals and Kyler Murray are at odds, statement or not.
A week after wiping his Instagram of all but two non-Cardinals photos, Murray has spoken. In a statement via Twitter, the third-year quarterback made his feelings known, albeit while leaving plenty to interpret.
“I play this game for the love of it, my teammates, everyone who has helped me get to this position that believed in me & to win championships. All of this nonsense is not what I’m about, never has been, never will be. Anyone who has ever stepped between those lines with me knows how hard I go. Love me or hate me but I’m going to continue to grow and get better.”
Nowhere above does Murray reaffirm his desire to be in Arizona. Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been anything from the Cardinals either, although Chris Mortensen of ESPN dropped a sourced report saying Murray was described as “self-centered, immature and (a) finger-pointer.”
Let’s just say those terms weren’t coming from his camp.
Entering his fourth year, Murray is still on a cheap rookie deal. He counts as $11.4 million against the cap, so trading him makes little sense unless the Cardinals recoup an ungodly haul –think three first-round picks — for him.
Realistically, general manager Steve Keim has all the leverage. He can watch Murray play in 2022 before determining whether to offer him a mega extension, have him play out his fifth-year option or even deal him.
This has become an ugly situation in Arizona, but don’t expect much movement in the near future.
2. Steelers hiring of Flores is good, but don’t go overboard
On Saturday, the Steelers announced their hiring of former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. In Pittsburgh, Flores will be a senior defensive assistant and run the linebackers, all while his lawsuit against the NFL continues.
Of course, it’s good Flores has a job. After authoring two winning seasons in Miami despite a horrific offensive line and a sub-optimal quarterback situation, it’s the least he should have.
However, celebrating the moment feels bizarre.
Flores shouldn’t be forced to take a job as a linebackers coach. He’s been one of the better coaches in the league over the last two seasons, and he’s not even a coordinator let alone in one of the top jobs. The NFL hasn’t had a problem employing Black assistants for years, so this isn’t some kind of diversity victory, either. Frankly, it’s a failure Flores has to be in this role, even if it’s good on Pittsburgh to give him a job while the suit is ongoing.
Hopefully sometime soon, Flores is back in the main chair where he belongs.
3. Bieniemy, Chiefs still in limbo as Combine looms
The Chiefs still haven’t made a decision on their future offensive coordinator. Time is ticking.
Kansas City and the man currently in the position, Eric Bieniemy, were reportedly scheduling a meeting to discuss their respective next moves. A week later, and nothing.
Bieniemy has been the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator every year Patrick Mahomes has been under center, helming one of the NFL’s elite units. Yet despite interviewing with a whopping 14 different teams for head-coaching positions, Bieniemy has come up empty.
At 52 years old and coming off a collapse in the AFC Championship Game, does Bieniemy want a break? Does Kansas City want a fresh voice? It remains unclear, as sources within the organization have gone silent on the situation.
What is clear is the Chiefs need to make a decision soon.
With the combine beginning next week, Kansas City must want clarity on whether Bieniemy is coming back for a fifth year in his seat, or if the franchise has to go looking. If it’s the latter, keep an eye on former Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2016-17, after three years coaching the quarterbacks.
4. Harbaugh’s extension screams intentions about NFL
A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about Jim Harbaugh’s likely continuing pursuit of the NFL.
On Thursday, Harbaugh signed an extension with the University of Michigan, but his buyout structure to leave for another job makes it easy to exit. After flirting with the Minnesota Vikings before the team hired Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Harbaugh maintained his desire to stay in Ann Arbor both now and going forward. Don’t buy it.
Harbaugh was very successful during his stint with the San Francisco 49ers, going 44-19-1 with three NFC Championship Games appearances and a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. And in a league where a quarter of the jobs come open almost annually, Harbaugh will have his chances to get back into the NFL at any time.
5. HOF Senior Selection Committee might see welcome change
There could be significant movement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process.
After seven years of the committee only having one Senior candidate in the pool, we could see that number double in future classes. From 2004-14, two Seniors had a chance for enshrinement each year. However, when the Hall introduced the Contributor category, Seniors — who are categorized by being retired for at least 25 years — got the squeeze.
While the change hasn’t been officially made, prospects appear good. This would be a fantastic shift for so many players who have been left behind, forced down the ballot by gluts at their position and politics along the way.
FanSided reached out to three current Hall of Fame voters to get a feel for which players this potential shift would help most. Names that came up?
Green Bay Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Maxie Baughan Cincinnati Bengals corner Ken Riley Washington Redskins tackle Joe Jacoby Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis Los Angeles Rams cornerback Eddie Meador Philadelphia Eagles OL/DL Al Wistert
We’ll see if some of these players get their deserved enshrinement soon.
Doug Pederson will prove a shrewd hire for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This time last year, the Jags were busy watching Urban Meyer begin his never-ending stream of mistakes. Fast forward to the present, and Pederson is bringing in a quality staff led by offensive coordinator Press Taylor and his defensive counterpart, Mike Caldwell.
Pederson, who won a Super Bowl in 2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles, should revive Trevor Lawrence’s career after a rough rookie season. Jacksonville, which has $59.2 million in cap space (only the Miami Dolphins have more), could see a drastic improvement in 2022 after having the No. 1 overall picks each of the last two years.
During five years in Philadelphia, Pederson posted a 42-37-1 record, dragged down by a 4-11-1 mark in 2020. There were also three playoff appearances and two NFC East titles, despite being handcuffed to Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.
Jacksonville won’t be an overnight contender, but expect a nice jump.
Inside the league
The Lamar Jackson situation is fascinating.
Jackson, 25, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. After taking home NFL MVP in 2019, Jackson threw 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions in 2020 while winning his first postseason game. Yet his Baltimore Ravens scored three points in their Divisional round loss to the Buffalo Bills, and afterwards, opinions were split on whether general manager Eric DeCosta should offer an extension.
Ultimately, none was signed and Jackson entered 2021 trying to prove himself again. Things didn’t go well.
After a hot start, both Jackson and the Ravens cratered. The electrifying quarterback only played in 12 games due to an ankle injury, throwing 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While Jackson’s 240.2 passing yards per game is easily his highest single-season total, the lingering feel was a down year.
Now, with a critical offseason upon us, it’s time for Baltimore to make its intentions known.
If the Ravens don’t extend Jackson — who represents himself — it says they don’t truly believe in his long-term ability to either stay healthy or continue improving as a passer.
But if Jackson stars in ’22, Baltimore would need to pay an even greater sum or chance a very disgruntled quarterback on the franchise tag.
However, if Baltimore does pay Jackson, it signals belief and provides continuity, but also takes on the calculated risk of a slender signal-caller with 615 carries on his body being able to remain upright.
It appears there’s no easy answer for the Ravens, but consider this: without Jackson, Baltimore is inarguably finished as a contender in the AFC. With him, the Ravens are a tough team to tackle.
Only the Panthers, Vikings, Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals have played in multiple Super Bowl without earning a victory. Buffalo and Minnesota have the dubious distinction of four empty trips apiece, while Cincinnati is at three. Atlanta and Carolina have both lost twice.
On Tuesday, the franchise tag window opens. The following Tuesday, it’s the start of the NFL Scouting Combine. On March 8, the tag window closes. Six days later, the beginning of legal tampering for free agency.
By extending the regular season to 17 games, the NFL effectively reduced the offseason by one week. When we get to 18 tilts, it’ll feel like the Super Bowl leads immediately into free agency and the draft, NBA-style.
One thing to watch beyond the tags over the next few weeks? Veteran quarterback movement.
We’re soon going to find out whether the Houston Texans will be trading Deshaun Watson, legal issues and all. In Green Bay, the Packers need a decision shortly from Aaron Rodgers on where his next snap is taken. For the Seattle Seahawks, what to make of Russell Wilson? Does he return for an 11th season, or does he demand a trade?
It’s possible we see Rodgers, Wilson, Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo get moved. The same is true of Carson Wentz, something we touched on last week in this column. Lastly, if the Cleveland Browns can nab any of the above names, does that make Baker Mayfield expendable as he readies to play on his fifth-year option? Unlikely, but worth a mention.
Hopefully you enjoyed a week of down time after the Super Bowl. A new season is now upon us.