ORLANDO, Fla. — The theme parks are on the other side of town, but the NFL’s Annual League Meeting is the happiest place on Earth for the week. Or at least the happiest time on the NFL calendar.
Coaches and front offices arrive with their families in tow, the frenzied portion of free agency over and the race to the 2018 NFL Draft still ahead. The meeting serves as a brief sip of water on a never-ending hamster wheel. It also marks the unofficial start of lying season.
Jets coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday that the team didn’t trade three second-round picks to move up three spots in this year’s first round with any particular player in mind. Bowles noted that the team will consider six to seven players for the third overall pick and will narrow down the list as the draft gets closer.
If that was actually true, general manager Mike Maccagnan would have just bet the organization’s future on hazy thinking before even making a real evaluation on this quarterback class. But no one listening to Bowles on Tuesday believes that he loves six to seven players that much. (If the Jets did, why wouldn’t they have stayed at pick No. 6?) The comment was just one of the less artful attempts at misdirection in response to a question Bowles didn’t want to answer.
The smokescreens were thick Tuesday morning, with 32 head coaches simultaneously meeting the media over bacon and Apple Jacks as the sun came up. With Bowles’ curious comment already handled, I’m going to look at more of the interesting quotes and news to emerge from these meetings in an attempt to sort the real from the fake:
» Giants GM Dave Gettleman, when asked if he wants Odell Beckham on the team: “Next question.”
Gettleman’s interview with NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones was a fascinating example of message-sending. While Gettleman later said that “you don’t quit on talent,” it was remarkable that he wouldn’t even clearly answer the question as to whether he’d like to retain one of the NFL’s best receivers who is currently under contract.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur struck a similar tone at the breakfast, only saying about Beckham that “he’s on our team.” The cold approach could be viewed as a direct response to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport’s report Monday that Beckham will not take the field under the terms of his current contract. Beckham has one year left on his rookie deal.
This process has a long way to go. Like most processes in the NFL, it hinges on money. Beckham is one of the singular receiving talents to enter the NFL this century, and the Giants are sending the message that they would listen to any interested parties. Rapoport reports there have been “several” trade calls to the Giants, and NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reports that the Rams’ No. 23 overall pick would be available.
But the Giants shouldn’t truly consider trading him unless they were to receive enormous compensation in return. That could be hard to find, considering Beckham is coming off a fractured ankle that cost him the last 11 games of the 2017 season, and any interested team would presumably have to be ready to hand Beckham a market-setting contract.
Gettleman appears to know that he could be in for a battle. These comments indicate he’s fortifying for a long one.
» Bills GM Brandon Beane on potentially trading up: “I know that’s the speculation. … We really have a lot of discussions with a lot of teams about all sorts of things. … Right now, we’re just focused on 12. We’re excited. Excited to be at 12, and I think we’re going to get a really good player there.”
No one expects that the Bills will ultimately pick at No. 12 overall when the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft actually arrives on April 26. Armed with a raft of draft picks and a burning need at quarterback, Buffalo could be in no man’s land, with so many teams at the top of the draft also searching for a signal-caller. Maccagnan strangely admitted this week that the Jets didn’t attempt to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick with the Giants, allowing a team like the Bills, Broncos (who pick at No. 5) or Dolphins (No. 11) to possibly move up to the position that Giants GM Dave Gettleman currently owns.
The top four quarterbacks in this class are expected to go quickly, possibly within the first five picks. The subterfuge and strategy that will play out in the meantime will be the most fascinating subplot of the coming month. The biggest shock would be if teams like the Bills didn’t aggressively move up to draft their guy, which is why Beane’s comment can’t be taken too seriously.
» Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on expectations this season: “I don’t look at this as Super Bowl or bust.”
I believe that Zimmer means that. I don’t believe Vikings fans will feel the same way next January.
» Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on receiver Martavis Bryant’s closing stretch: “I thought he was a guy on the rise. The adjustment he made coming off suspension was not an easy one. … Much more mature guy, obviously.”
I’m buying what Tomlin is selling here. He said he still believed Bryant can play the role of home-run hitter in the team’s offense under new coordinator Randy Fichtner. Trade questions and rumors trail Bryant like a cornerback he’s beaten down the field, but his expected value in a trade entering the final year of his rookie contract is unlikely to match up with his talent. Tomlin knows he has two incredibly diverse and dynamic wideouts in Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster playing behind Antonio Brown, so why give up on that?
» Rams coach Sean McVay on whether it will be tough to manage all the big personalities on the team’s defense: “I think the defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips) has more swag than all of them, so we’ll be in good shape.”
McVay is quickly becoming an expert at shutting down a ridiculous line of questioning. Worrying about the Rams having too many characters is like worrying that Tom Brady has too many weapons to choose from. They’ll manage.
» Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on his team’s dramatic offseason: “We’re just as freakin’ jacked and cranked as we’ve ever been to keep on going, keep on doing it. … I’m still pissed about the way we ended the season.”
Carroll has more energy than virtually any human alive, let alone his fellow 66-year-olds. This amped-up attitude from Carroll — after a 2017 season that concluded amid speculation he might retire — has been a theme from him this offseason, one in which he said he was looking forward to the “challenge” of coaching up a new staff (including new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.) and replacing a “graduating class” of veterans (with one-time defensive cornerstones Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman among the major player departures), to use his words.
When Carroll started the decade using words like this, a lot of people rolled their eyes. Then he and GM John Schneider constructed one of the best rebuilding jobs of the last 20 years. While the Rams and 49ers get all the attention in the NFC West, don’t look past the most proven coach and quarterback in the division, especially when that coach is freaking jacked and cranked like this.
» Browns coach Hue Jackson on the No. 1 overall pick: “Saquon (Barkley) is definitely in the conversation.”
A lot of what Jackson said Tuesday conflicts with what he … also said Tuesday. He believes the Browns’ franchise quarterback is in this draft, but he also said that the team would consider taking a running back No. 1 overall. If Jackson believes that the Browns have finally found their man at quarterback, Barkley will only be in the conversation if he’s still available when the Browns pick at No. 4 overall.
Then again, Jackson also said the Browns could keep their preference at No. 1 overall a secret all the way until draft night. To that end, he said that quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen will all head to Cleveland for private visits. Expect more conflicting statements in the future.
» Jaguars coach Doug Marrone on Texans coach Bill O’Brien: “I don’t really like the guy in Houston, the head coach, so whatever he says publicly, I’m not going to really take verbatim. I think he’s lying a lot. He’s one of those guys that will try to throw you off.”
This was a well-delivered smokescreen, Marrone dripping with sarcasm while talking about his best friend in football. A few comments that were more believable from Marrone: that the team talks about adding another quarterback daily, with no one behind Blake Bortles — and that watching Texans QB Deshaun Watson play in the NFL for the first time made him say, “holy s—.”
» Broncos coach Vance Joseph on the team’s 2016 first-round pick: “By no means is Paxton (Lynch) done. … We believe in Paxton.”
If the Broncos believed in Lynch, they would not have given journeyman Case Keenum $18 million per year to become their quarterback. Lynch has time to turn his career around, but he’s more likely to lose the team’s backup job to Chad Kelly than take over Keenum’s starting spot.
» 49ers coach Mike Shanahan on running back Jerick McKinnon: “He’s our starting running back.”
The money in McKinnon’s recently signed contract, which includes $12 million in cash for 2018, proves Shanahan’s point. He has a vision for McKinnon as a true primary back and questioned the conventional wisdom that a running back needs to be near 230 pounds to be a lead back.
» Coach Jon Gruden on the Raiders’ approach in free agency: “If you want to run the ball, you are going to need some components to do it.”
If this offseason has taught me anything, it’s that Gruden is dead serious about running the ball. He said that the Raiders have to “service” Marshawn Lynch better, and lining up with a blocking tight end or two is one way to do that. Gruden mentioned potentially converting one of the team’s tackles to tight end but didn’t say who.
» Lions coach Matt Patricia’s excellent wardrobe:
Paul Pasqualoni will call the Lions’ defensive plays, mostly https://t.co/SFwOflH6Un pic.twitter.com/n1BLxgEcwf
â Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke)
March 27, 2018
Matt Patricia, fashion icon pic.twitter.com/2eZqQ0rEbZ
â Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke)
March 26, 2018
Thankfully, these rumors are all true.
“It’s kind of the honeymoon phase,” Patricia said. “I’m undefeated right now. We’ll see what happens in October.”
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.