FRISCO, Texas – I would give anything to be a fly on the wall around this time of year.
The NFL Combine starts next week in Indianapolis, and with it comes the beginning of rumor season. Every general manager and coach in the league will be in town, along with a multitude of NFL agents trying to secure their clients a deal.
We’re going to learn some things in Indianapolis. On top of the hundreds of prospects who will test and interview at the Combine, league officials will give hundreds of interviews. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will address the media. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones will assuredly have some things to say about the state of his roster.
But man. Nothing we learn in the presence of microphones will be half as interesting as what will get talked about behind closed doors – between general managers, amongst agents and everywhere in between. For that matter, even the tidbits that we media members pick up off the record won’t be as fascinating as the actual conversations between the NFL’s power brokers.
In a way, next week in Indianapolis will likely be anticlimactic. It’s highly unlikely that any true blockbuster deals are going to get made over this six-day period, and we know the draft is still two months away. But these closed-door discussions will form the foundation for what happens when the league kicks into free agency, and they’ll help shape the league landscape for the 2017 season.
Even if I never get to hear any of it with my own ears, it’s fascinating to think about. And with that in mind, here’s a handful of the conversations I’d love to be a part of up in Indianapolis.
1. The Obvious One
Can’t you just imagine the Cowboys’ brain trust having all sorts of conversations about the eventual fate of Tony Romo?
I mean, obviously – let’s not be dramatic. In this day and age, there’s a million ways to sort these types of situations out. But it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys will be in Indianapolis, surrounded by the rest of the league elite, and not try to gauge the temperature around their veteran quarterback.
You know all the talking points by now. You know about Romo’s cap hit, his age, his injury history. You’ve read a dozen stories – here and elsewhere – about how he might be traded or whether it would be smarter to release him. To this point in the process, it’s mainly idle speculation by curious fans and reporters alike.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the NFL Combine will be where the Cowboys start to finalize their gameplan about Romo, though. Given a chance to check the league’s temperature about Romo’s value, I have to imagine the Cowboys try to make something happen sooner rather than later.
2. The Bidding Game
I wrote a few weeks back about the price of the Cowboys’ impending free agents. As the NFL Combine begins, though, I would imagine those estimates are about to become a bit more concrete.
Like I said, every agent of consequence is going to be testing the waters and feeling out the market next week. It’s a great opportunity to foster relationships and feel out the market while the entire league is in one place.
The Cowboys likely already have numbers in mind for all of their impending free agents – how much they’re willing to pay, how much they expect the price to be. This is a great chance to bounce those numbers off of other people.
Free agency is set to start a mere three days after the Combine ends this year. Whatever questions the Cowboys have about their blueprint for the coming month, they’re about to get them answered.
3. Corner of 28th
I’ve talked about this a lot on our podcasts and on-camera segments, and I’m going to reiterate it here:
Along with pass rusher, cornerback is definitely a Dallas need – regardless of what the Cowboys do in free agency. Fortunately for them, this draft class appears to be absolutely loaded with cornerback talent, despite the fact that the Cowboys have to wait until Pick No. 28.
My esteemed colleague, Dane Brugler, is the real expert on this, and he has said the same thing as me. There will be good defensive backs available this April, regardless of where you pick.
Per CBSSports’ current rankings, nine of this draft’s top 50 prospects are cornerbacks. The number swells to 12 if you include safeties – which the Cowboys could also use. That’s 25 percent of the top 50 prospects, made up of names like:
Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore
Florida CB Teez Tabor
Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
Washington CB Sidney Jones
LSU CB Tre’Davious White
Washington S Budda Baker
Iowa DB Desmond King
Point being: that’s a lot of names on the draft board. It’s possible, but highly unlikely that all of them are snatched up before the Cowboys can pick. What order they go in is going to be determined in the next two months.
4. Rushing to 28th
For the record, most of what I just said applies to edge rushers, as well. The back end of the first round isn’t typically a great place to find them, but those same CBSSports rankings list eight edge rushers in the first 50 prospects of this draft.
Some of these guys aren’t going to be options. Myles Garrett won’t be there, much to the dismay of the people in my Twitter mentions. Stanford standout Solomon Thomas and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett will likely be long gone, too.
There will be guys on the board, though. You’ve heard the names – Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley. At this point, you run the risk of sounding like a broken record, because these are the types of players we’ll be discussing all the way up until the draft.
I wouldn’t dream of predicting the Cowboys’ first-round pick in February, but I do feel optimistic that there will be either a cornerback or a pass rusher – or both – available for them at No. 28.
5. Loose Ends
There’s only so much speculating I can do about the Brandon Carrs, Barry Churches and Terrance Williamses of the world. Like I said earlier: the Cowboys will have to determine their price point and act accordingly.
That only covers a handful of the Cowboys’ 21 free agents, though. The vast majority of the business NFL clubs do in the offseason is with players that are not going to grab headlines. Think back to 2016 for a second. The Cowboys’ top signings of the spring were names like Cedric Thornton and Benson Mayowa. They inked new contracts with homegrown superstars like James Hanna, Jeff Heath and Kyle Wilber.
Those are the types of names that make up the majority of the roster. Which makes me wonder about this year’s crop of free agents. In-house, I wonder about guys like Darren McFadden, Brice Butler, Jack Crawford, David Irving and Terrell McClain.
Barring a surprise, the Cowboys should be able to bring any of those guys back should they want to. The question is whether or not that’s a priority. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the front office feels the same way about a player as you do. If you’ll recall, Crawford sat on the market for almost a month last year before the Cowboys brought him back.
These are the unsexy options that make up the fabric of a roster. By the time they get back from the Combine, I feel like they’ll have a better idea of what to do with these guys. Read