Saturday, June 15, 2024

Everything we heard at 2024 NFL league meetings: QB thoughts, draft maneuvers, roster holes

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The NFL concluded the league’s annual meetings Tuesday, with significant news coming out of Orlando on subjects, including a major change to kickoff rules, a ban of the controversial “hip drop” tackle, the addition of Wednesday Christmas Day games in 2024 and an alteration to the timing of the trade deadline.

The three-day event also included numerous owners, general managers and coaches discussing the makeup of their teams and answering the most pressing questions in this period between free agency and the draft, and more than 20 ESPN reporters were on the scene to collect the highlights:

Jump to a team/topic:
QB buzz | Owners | Taylor/Travis
49ers | Bears | Bills | Chargers
Colts | Commanders | Eagles

Falcons | Giants | Jaguars | Jets
Raiders | Rams | Ravens | Seahawks
Steelers | Texans | Vikings

The latest first-round QB buzz

Anybody who tells you they know how the quarterbacks are going off the board at the top of the draft is lying, but here’s some of the scuttlebutt I picked up in the Ritz-Carlton hallways: People still seem convinced the Chicago Bears will take Caleb Williams first overall, though it’s worth mentioning that he still hasn’t taken his pre-draft visit with them (GM Ryan Poles said that would be next week), he didn’t do medicals at the combine and they aren’t going to draft him without giving him a physical.

The Washington Commanders are still going through their process at No. 2 and being tight-lipped about it. Some people think they’ll take Jayden Daniels, others think Drake Maye, but I don’t think Washington even knows for sure yet. The New England Patriots at No. 3 are a mystery but open to trading down if they aren’t in love with whichever quarterback is there at No. 3.

The Minnesota Vikings and the Las Vegas Raiders both seem very eager to trade up, and it sounds like there could be a competition between those two, especially if Daniels is still there at No. 3 and the Patriots decide not to take him. A lot of people think the Giants’ guy is J.J. McCarthy, and if so, the question is whether they can sit at No. 6 and take him or whether they might need to trade up a spot or two. — Dan Graziano

Team officials never worried about the possibility of losing QB Aaron Rodgers to the campaign trail. The story about him being a potential running mate for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. actually prompted some lighthearted banter, with GM Joe Douglas joking about potential hires for the cabinet. But, seriously: The Jets expect Rodgers, six-plus months removed from right Achilles tendon surgery, to be on the field for OTA practices in May.

Coach Robert Saleh said he “fully anticipates” the 40-year-old QB to participate to some degree. The Jets are excited about Rodgers’ recovery, with Saleh saying the four-time MVP is “on a mission” to regain his pre-injury form. As insurance, they signed well-traveled quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Saleh called him “an elite locker-room presence.” — Rich Cimini

DeMeco Ryans explained why the Texans traded out of the first round, and it simply came to value. “There’s a really large amount of players in a second to third, fourth round,” Ryans said, adding that the range was viewed as the “sweet spot.”

The Texans have two second-round picks in the upcoming draft and can address a couple of holes on the roster. Defensive tackle and cornerback are spots where the Texans could improve. But they want another offensive playmaker. Houston attempted to trade for Keenan Allen before he landed with the Chicago Bears. –DJ Bien-Aime

North Carolina QB Drake Maye, who is among those the Patriots could be considering with the No. 3 overall pick, impressed first-year head coach Jerod Mayo. He’s squarely on the team’s radar if he is available.

“Drake Maye had a fantastic interview at the combine. He brings a lot of energy. You can tell he has that leadership ability,” Mayo said. “Also the exciting part about a guy like Drake Maye, there is really no ceiling with a guy like that. In saying that, when we’re trying to put together this roster, I know a lot of people look at the ceiling. But you also have to look at how low is the floor. I would say a guy like Drake Maye — he has a lot of room to grow. He’s a young guy. Honestly, he hasn’t played football nearly as much as these other guys. So that’s definitely something we’ve looked at, but he’s definitely going to develop.” — Mike Reiss

General manager Howie Roseman said the depreciated running back market factored into the Eagles’ decision to go against their normal practices to sign Saquon Barkley to a sizable contract.

“Has the pendulum swung so far at this position? I mean, the guy touches the ball 300 times a year, hopefully, there’s not a lot of other skill position players that are touching the ball that many times and having that effect,” Roseman said.

Add that the Eagles view Barkley as a “special” player and person, and there’s the reason for the move. Coach Nick Sirianni said he isn’t worried about Barkley fitting in the new scheme that Siriani and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore are putting together. He called having multiple playmakers, such as Barkley, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, a “good problem to have” but acknowledged a team-first mindset is going to be required for the inevitable stretches when a high-profile player won’t be getting the touches he desires. — Tim McManus

Raiders coach Antonio Pierce said the team is still looking for its QB1 heading into the draft, despite Aidan O’Connell returning and the team signing veteran Gardner Minshew in free agency.

“You’re looking for somebody that wants to come in that room and be competitive,” Pierce said. “Give us that edge. And again, if it’s a rookie, if it’s Aidan, if it’s Minshew, if it’s [Anthony] Brown, we’re going to put the best player out there that gives us a chance to win.”

The Raiders own the No. 13 overall pick, and it would be a Herculean task to trade up into the top 10, where four quarterbacks are projected to be taken. Still, Pierce would rule out nothing at the owners meetings. — Paul Gutierrez

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal on Baltimore adding another veteran wide receiver. Asked about recent free agent visits by Michael Gallup and Josh Reynolds, Harbaugh said, “We drafted two great players in the last three years in the first round. I would think that Rashod [Bateman] and Zay [Flowers] would be excited to step to the front together. That’s where it begins.”

While Flowers is expected to be the No. 1 wide receiver, it seems like Bateman will get a chance to take over as the clear-cut No. 2. Team officials have talked glowingly about him this offseason and expect him to take the next step. Bateman, a first-round pick in 2021, has had a disappointing start to his career. He has totaled 93 catches and four touchdowns in his first three seasons. The Ravens have a need at wide receiver after cutting Odell Beckham Jr. and losing Devin Duvernay to the Jaguars in free agency. — Jamison Hensley

There was only one draft prospect the Bears representation in Orlando talked about by name, and the details of the team’s visit to USC for Caleb Williams’ pro day highlight the extensive research the team has done on the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. How Williams interacted with his USC teammates and Bears staffers in small group settings solidified the Bears’ belief in his leadership and character. Poles noted that he didn’t see Williams pick up his phone once during a dinner the Bears hosted prior to his pro day and was impressed by the feedback they received from those who have worked with him closely.

“When you talk to his teammates, they don’t like him, they love him,” Poles said. “I’m having a hard time finding a person that doesn’t like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits.”

The same goes for coach Matt Eberflus, who spent 80 minutes with Williams one-on-one inside USC’s football offices to learn about the quarterback’s football acumen and journey. The Bears have already begun teaching Williams their offense and will work on the install further when he is scheduled to take his visit next week. Testing Williams’ recall and ability to process and relay back the information given to him is one of the final boxes the Bears will check in their evaluation before being on the clock next month.

“He’s been great that way,” Eberflus said. “Again, spend some more time visiting with him. He’ll get a chance to spend some more time with the offensive staff that wasn’t there at the pro day. It’s going to be good.” — Courtney Cronin

NFL’s love story lives on

Further proof that the NFL is living in Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s world and enjoying every second of it: Sunday afternoon, the league assembled a sizzle reel for owners and executives to kick off the meetings. Usually, these reels are about players and metrics and ratings and business. This year, it was a photo of Kelce and Swift kissing after the Super Bowl — punctuated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joking about the season being sealed with a kiss. — Seth Wickersham

For the past year, there has been plenty of discussion about whether the 49ers will be able to re-sign wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk or be forced to trade him because of the realities of a top-heavy payroll. But the Niners have been steadfast that they want to keep Aiyuk and were more definitive in those statements than they’ve ever been this week in Orlando.

Yes, getting Aiyuk signed to a lucrative extension won’t be easy, and there have already been signs of frustrations from the wideout, but the Niners have been through prolonged negotiations with disgruntled players, such as Deebo Samuel, before, and those still ended with a done deal. Traditionally, those contracts have been finalized either right before training camp or during it, but there are some signs the Niners are working to expedite that process with Aiyuk.

General manager John Lynch confirmed that the team has already begun discussing contract parameters with Aiyuk’s camp and, with other wideouts due for big-money extensions soon, the Niners know they’d be wise to sign Aiyuk before the market resets. “Usually when you’re in a situation like we are where you’ve got a real good player who wants to be here and we want the player to be here extremely bad, too, what I found with us [is] it doesn’t always happen right away,” Shanahan said. “But it’s a matter of time until it ends up working out.” — Nick Wagoner

The Giants are looking closely at quarterbacks. As they should, considering owner John Mara revealed that he was told by his front office that this is the “most talented group to come in years.” Mara is not going to stop the Giants from taking a quarterback at the top of the draft, if general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll so desire. Daboll revealed he will be attending “a few pro days.” Well, Jayden Daniels throws Wednesday at LSU, and UNC’s Drake Maye puts his talents on display Thursday. Listening to the Giants speak this week verifies the legitimacy of their interest in taking a quarterback. — Jordan Raanan

Head coach Doug Pederson remained noncommittal about whether he’s going to take over playcalling duties in 2024. Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor split those in 2022 — Pederson called plays in the first half of games and Taylor the second — but Pederson gave Taylor the job full time in 2023. The offense took a step back from 2022, when it finished in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring, total yards per game and passing yards per game.

The unit was hammered by injuries — receivers Zay Jones and Christian Kirk, offensive linemen Cam Robinson and Ezra Cleveland, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence missed a combined 19 games — but Taylor also was heavily criticized for play selection and the Jaguars’ short-yardage struggles. When asked at the combine on whether it would be better for the organization if he called plays again, Pederson said it was something he needed to consider. But this week he said he hadn’t yet come to a decision. — Michael DiRocco

The Vikings haven’t sent their top decision-makers to the pro day workouts of the draft’s top quarterbacks, but that attendance record shouldn’t be viewed as a verdict on their appraisals or draft intentions. Instead, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell will orchestrate private workouts with the quarterbacks they are interested in potentially replacing the departed Kirk Cousins.

“I think pro days are great for a lot of reasons,” O’Connell said, “having nothing to do with the script and nothing to do with what you actually get to see when you make the effort to go there. I think they’re great. I think the guys are doing a great job with them and the people that get a lot out of that. I think it’s valuable and it’s valuable for us as a piece of it, but nothing compares to really completing that full process with a visit or them maybe coming to the Twin Cities for one of our 30 visits.” — Kevin Seifert

Coach Sean McDermott described the release of cornerback Tre’Davious White earlier this month as “tragic in some ways,” with White suffering two major season-ending injuries in just under three years. The 2019 All-Pro was the first player drafted under McDermott in 2017.

“Eventually, it’s going to come just because of the life-span of an NFL player, but came way too early in my mind … and I’m sure in his mind, as well,” McDermott said. “I think he’s one of the best defensive backs to ever play in Buffalo; I really believe that. He’s all class, all the time, and he works his tail off. And he’s one of the best human beings I know.”

White visited with multiple NFL teams during the past week, agreeing to a deal with the Rams on Tuesday.

General manager Brandon Beane also shared that he doesn’t think safety Micah Hyde, who is a free agent, has decided on retirement and that the team “definitely wouldn’t shut the door” on bringing Hyde back if he decides to play. — Alaina Getzenberg

General manager John Schneider and new coach Mike Macdonald reiterated that Geno Smith is still the Seahawks’ QB1, but there’s a clear excitement in the organization about recent trade addition Sam Howell. Seattle beat out three other teams that also were negotiating with the Commanders for Howell, and the buzz in Orlando was that one of them was the division-rival Rams, who later signed Jimmy Garoppolo. Schneider said Howell could “absolutely” be a full-time starter again.

The feeling in Seattle is that Howell’s propensity to hold onto the ball — he was sacked a league-high 65 times last season — was partially a product of the quarterback becoming hesitant while playing behind a struggling O-line. The Seahawks have their own work to do there, with both starting guard spots unfilled. Look for them to sign a veteran with starting experience over the next week. Laken Tomlinson and Cody Whitehair are two names to keep in mind. — Brady Henderson

Safety Julian Blackmon is the only key in-house free agent the Colts have declined to re-sign. But there’s a chance that might soon change, despite Blackmon making free agent visits to the Bills and 49ers in the past week. General manager Chris Ballard said the Colts and Blackmon have reengaged in recent days and that conversations are ongoing.

The Colts’ young secondary was problematic at the end of last season, with a pair of coverage busts dooming them in the season finale against the Texans; it was a game Blackmon missed with an injury and a loss that knocked Indianapolis out of the playoff picture. Look for the Colts to sign Blackmon or another free agent safety before the offseason concludes. Just don’t expect them to rush the decision if the price isn’t right given the glut of veteran safeties currently on the market. — Stephen Holder

They don’t know. So don’t listen to anyone who suggests they know which quarterback the Commanders will take with the second pick. That was the message from both general manager Adam Peters and coach Dan Quinn.

“If somebody thinks they know,” Quinn said, “they’ll have to fill me in, because Adam and I, we’re not there yet.”

As Peters stated, “We’re far from our answer.”

Quinn said he is just now getting deep into draft evaluation, having spent time building a staff, evaluating his new roster and going through free agency. While Quinn doesn’t know which signal-caller the Commanders want yet, he does know what they want in a quarterback.

Quinn looks at measurables, of course. But more than anything, he looks for traits. “How does he process? There’s so much information that comes from that position,” Quinn said. “Can he get you out of a bad play? Can you speed up and make great decisions still?” That’s why, he said, “More than anything, it’s the ability from the neck up.” — John Keim

The Chargers appear open for business in trading the fifth pick. In recent weeks, general manager Joe Hortiz and coach Jim Harbaugh have pointed to the quarterback talent in this year’s draft class as a reason they might end up trading their first-round pick.

“If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, that’s not like the fifth pick anymore,” Harbaugh said. “That’s like the No. 1 pick of the draft for teams that have a great quarterback already. So, we’ll see.”

There are holes just about everywhere on the Chargers’ roster other than at quarterback. They have nine picks in the draft, but trading back and stockpiling more players might benefit this roster. In Harbaugh’s four seasons as coach of the 49ers, they traded in the first round once to select safety Eric Reid. — Kris Rhim

The Falcons have added a lot to their offense this offseason, from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wideout Darnell Mooney. The acquisitions round out a group that was already flush with young talent at the skill positions. Conventional wisdom suggests Atlanta will look to add defenders early in the draft, with a focus on an edge pass-rusher. While that might end up being the case, general manager Terry Fontenot is a best-player-available kind of guy, and he noted Tuesday that he doesn’t like the idea of “reaching for needs” in the draft. New coach Raheem Morris, meanwhile, covets a pass-rusher, which is a need the Falcons also could fill via trade for Haason Reddick, for example.

“I think you got to continuously add those guys every single year,” Morris said. “When you come up and you talk about pass rushing and how you affect the quarterback, it’s just what our game has become at this point. All you guys want to see yards, and I want to stop them.” — Marc Raimondi

The Rams signed Jimmy Garoppolo to be their backup quarterback, but they might also have a third option at the position on their roster. On Monday, general manager Les Snead said the Rams expect to “onboard” 2023 fourth-round pick Stetson Bennett for offseason workouts. Bennett, who was drafted to back up quarterback Matthew Stafford, spent his rookie season on the reserve/non-football illness list for undisclosed reasons.

The Rams prioritized signing a backup quarterback after Stafford missed a key game in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers last season with a thumb injury. Coach Sean McVay said he hasn’t spoken to Bennett, who is working out in Dallas, but is “looking forward to getting him back and seeing how he’s feeling.” As McVay added, “And we’ll just take it a day at a time with him.” — Sarah Barshop

After trading away Diontae Johnson, the Steelers have an obvious need for a No. 2 receiver behind George Pickens. They added a pair of wideouts in Van Jefferson and Quez Watkins. But in discussing the team’s options to further add to the position, coach Mike Tomlin pointed out the unusual depth of the wide receiver draft class, something he attributes to the evolution and popularity of 7-on-7 football.

“I just think that receivers and those that cover them come probably a little bit more ready-made in today’s game than maybe in years past,” Tomlin said. “I think it’s the evolution of 7-on-7 football for high school kids. I just think their development, the skills relative to their positions, come with a higher floor.”

Because of the depth in this year’s draft, don’t be surprised if the Steelers wait to address the position after the first round — especially because the team hasn’t yet added another center after releasing Mason Cole earlier this year. Both Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan called their center position a “work in progress.” — Brooke Pryor

Could makeup of NFL ownership groups change?

The NFL continues to have its special committee on ownership look into making alterations to regulations surrounding team ownership, potentially including looking at private equity firms as possibilities, which has occurred in the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The committee presented information to owners on Monday afternoon, with commissioner Roger Goodell calling it “a lengthy discussion” and saying progress is being made. It is an issue that was described by multiple people to ESPN as “complex.” The committee spoke with each club individually to get a sense for concerns and suggestions.

“In that format, you get better feedback and really an understanding of what each person’s thoughts and concerns are,” Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told ESPN on Tuesday. “So, we did that on this. And I would say that the ownership’s thinking has evolved as we’ve been working on this. And I think there’s a general positive sentiment for it.”

Neither Hunt nor Goodell wanted to put a timeline on a potential recommendation, but they said it is possible it could come in May or in the fall. — Michael Rothstein

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