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Monday Morning GM - Pre-Combine Buzz, Free Agent Moves

Senior writer Cecil Lammey goes through the latest buzz going on in the world of the NFL and the NFL draft.

It’s that time of year again. Players are getting cut and others are retiring as teams prepare for the start of the new league year on March 9th. Teams are trying to re-arrange their salary cap in an effort to build a better version in 2016.

The web traffic for sites like Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com must be through the roof right now as fans feverishly clack on their keyboards to work the numbers just to see if they can keep everybody on the roster. Fans stare at their screens, eyes glazed over, as they run the data to see if somehow—someway their favorite players can stay.

The reality of the NFL is far less kind.

In this Billion-With-A-B-Dollar industry things work much like a meat grinder. Players go in, they get used up and then teams move on. It would be nice to keep key players intact, but that simply can’t be the case in the salary-cap era—even with the salary cap reportedly going up to at least $155 million in 2016.

Before all that activity gets started, the biggest event of the “draft season” not named The NFL Draft is coming up this week in Indianapolis as the 2016 Scouting Combine is set to get underway. Even though we don’t have football on Sundays right now, a HUGE NFL event (and must-see TV for true fans) starts on Wednesday.

Do not develop a case of the Mondays! Cheer yourself up….the Combine is right around the corner.

 

Jared Rides Off, Heath Hangs ‘Em Up

In this age of social networking, we get some interesting player interactions on Twitter. When “Dis Mah Son” Marshawn Lynch tweeted out a simple picture of cleats hanging on a telephone wire, we knew his days in the NFL were done.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen did something equally creative when announcing his retirement via Twitter. Just like Rooster Cogburn, Allen—literally—rode off into the sunset to show that he’s done playing football.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Allen. Growing up in the country, rodeo was the first sport I participated in. I didn’t own a pair of cleats—or even tennis shoes—until I was in 7th grade and started playing tackle football for the Pawnee Jackrabbits. Like me, Allen is pure country, and I always loved his sack dance where he pretended to tie a calf. Enjoy retirement cowboy.

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller is also calling it a career…and what a career it was! He retires as the Steelers’ all-time leader (45) and catches (592) by a tight end. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Miller ranks 6th for career catches by a tight end in NFL history. While he may not make the Hall of Fame, Miller is most certainly going to be in the Steelers Ring of Fame someday.

With Miller gone, what do the Steelers do at tight end? The player likely to get the first shot at replacing Miller in the starting lineup is second-year pro Jesse James. In last year’s draft class, there were only three tight ends (Maxx Williams, Clive Walford, Blake Bell) that I really liked. James certainly has the size, measuring in at 6’7” 261 pounds. However, he needs to do a better job of playing with increased physicality at the line of scrimmage. He needs to become a more fluid athlete and improve his run-after-the-catch ability too. James could be a decent pro, but he’ll struggle to replace Miller in 2016.

 

Titans to Take a Tackle?

The Tennessee Titans currently own the first-overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Just like most every year, the Titans are reportedly interested in trading away the pick if they get the right price in return. Also just like most every year, the Titans are likely to hold onto the pick as no team is willing to pony up the proper compensation (especially in a year where there’s no OMG Franchise QB).

Sources tell me if the Titans pick first, they will take Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Just two years ago, the Titans selected Taylor Lewan with the 11th-overall pick and he currently lines up at left tackle for them. Grabbing Tunsil would give the Titans bookend tackles who could provide fantastic protection for young star quarterback Marcus Mariota.  

While some think Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa could be their pick, I’m told the team is not as high on him as some think. Knocks on Bosa are a lack of play strength, and he’s often left standing flat-footed as he diagnoses plays in front of him. Bosa could be a fine pro—and a top-10 pick—but it looks like it won’t be with the Titans.

 

ZZ To The Top?

The Detroit Lions made a move early last week to rid themselves of veteran Joique Bell. He was set to make $2.5 million in 2016, but the Lions were unwilling to pay that salary. Rather than take a pay cut (right now), Bell chose to test the open market. He may find the market is cool for his services after a disappointing 2015 season where he posted only 3.4 yards per carry. Don’t be surprised if he winds up with the Lions again—at a much lower price tag.

Without Bell, some think the Lions are going to hand their rushing attack over to Ameer Abdullah. With speed and explosiveness, there’s a lot of flash to Abdullah’s game. However, Abdullah may lack the size to be a full-time back and the team has an effective Theo Riddick to work on passing downs.

Zach Zenner may be the player to watch here. Undrafted out of South Dakota State (Jackrabbits baby!) in 2015, Zenner is an intriguing prospect that deep dynasty owners should love to roster.

Before a ribs injury (and a collapsed lung) ended his rookie season in 2015, Zenner showed plenty of power and good burst as a runner between the tackles. We could see Zenner do the heavy lifting for the Lions’ rushing attack with Abdullah and Riddick providing plenty of speed as part-time backs.

Is Zenner more than a fullback? We’ll find out in 2016.

 

Ram’s Repairs

In an effort to do a little “spring cleaning” the Los Angeles Rams cut a few big-name players this week. Defensive end Chris Long, linebacker James Laurinaitis and tight end Jared Cook were released Friday, moves that saved the Rams about $23 million.

Over the last two years, injuries have limited Long to only 18 games. He lost playing time to William Hayes in 2015, so it was easy to see how the team would be ready to move on. If healthy, Long should get more than a few suitors on the open market.

Laurinaitis is not the same player he used to be. After seven years with the Rams, the veteran linebacker seems to have lost a step or two. He still has a nose for the ball, but he doesn’t arrive to the play as quickly as he used to be. As teams look to fill in veteran linebacker spots, we could see Laurinaitis get a look or two—but he might have to wait until training camp to get signed by a new team.

Cook has always had amazing natural talent, but he’s never truly played up to his potential. As three-time Super Bowl Champion Mark Schlereth always says, potential is a dirty, filthy word. Cook has the size, speed, athleticism combination to be one of the best tight ends in the league. Perhaps finally getting away from head coach Jeff Fisher (his coach with the Titans and the Rams) will do him some good. So who would be targeting Cook? I’m told the Steelers will at least kick the tires on the veteran tight end.

 

Backup No More?

When Doug Pederson took over as the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, many wondered what he would first do at the quarterback position. While they’re still interested in bringing back Bradford (a boring option), there are teams like the 49ers and the Browns who could show more love to the veteran quarterback.

During his time with the Chiefs, Pederson was able to work with long-time backup Chase Daniel. Now, reports are suggesting that Daniel could be an option to start for the Eagles in 2016.

Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Daniel threw only 68 passes in three seasons with the Chiefs. He looks like a mini-Ben Roethlisberger, and some team may want to take a chance on the athletic gunslinger. Just like guys named Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn we could see Daniel get at least one chance to be a starter in the NFL.

In the 2015 preseason (yes, the preseason) Daniel threw five touchdowns and only one interception. He has flashed during the preseason with both the Chiefs and earlier in his career with the New Orleans Saints. Daniel is certainly a “system” quarterback who can succeed when plays go according to script.

Cassel, Kolb and Flynn all flopped as starters so some will assume the chances are slim that Daniel makes it—IF—he gets a chance to start. However, we’ve seen quarterbacks (Rich Gannon anyone?) fall through the cracks before. If Pederson sees Daniel as more than a backup, we could see a proper system put around Daniel in an effort to help him succeed.

 

Bring Back Brock!

The Denver Broncos have patiently been waiting for quarterback Peyton Manning to make a decision on whether or not he’d retire after winning Super Bowl 50. They have not yet moved forward in contract negotiations with soon-to-be free agent Brock Osweiler.

The time of waiting is done.

Sources indicate the Broncos will begin negotiations this week with Osweiler’s representatives at the Combine. So what kind of deal will general manager John Elway be trying to put together for his potential starter?

Osweiler went 5-2 as a starter for the Broncos this year. He’s spent most of four seasons learning as a backup quarterback behind Manning, and now Osweiler will get his shot to be “the man” full time.

In this quarterback-desperate league, Osweiler could get a deal that commands at least $12 million annually. Some are suggesting Osweiler is going to get around $15-17 million a year on the open market, but that’s a price the Broncos may be uncomfortable paying.

Elway has constructed a world champion in only five years as the general manager. We have enough history with him to see that he’s shrewd but fair in negotiations. I’m told the Broncos have a number in mind for Brock, and they won’t budge off that number much to sign him. I have a feeling the two sides will be able to work out a short-term deal (three years?) with escalators to make both parties happy.