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Sunday football notes

Breaking down the top non-draft stories of the NFL Combine

The Packers don't have sombrero issues, but they do need to figure out how Aaron Rodgers (12) and Davante Adams (17) best fit under their salary cap.Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

When the NFL Scouting Combine is held this coming week in Indianapolis, all eyes will be on the 324 draft prospects as they perform drills and navigate a gauntlet of interviews and medical exams.

But for many teams the draft process is more of a secondary concern. The NFL Draft is still two months away, and there are several more important matters that need to be tended to first.

Such as:

▪ The Packers have to figure out what to do with their two franchise players, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams.

They can’t proceed with the rest of the offseason until they have finality with these two, and they probably have to figure out Adams first. Rodgers doesn’t seem to want to commit until he knows the fate of his favorite receiver.


The Packers want both to come back, but it’s complicated because the Packers are more than $30 million over the projected salary cap. It’s not that the Packers won’t be able to pay Rodgers and Adams whatever they want, but the Packers need to do a little salary-cap gymnastics first. They started chipping away this past week by restructuring running back Aaron Jones and defensive tackle Kenny Clark to create about $14 million in space.

The Packers can always use the franchise tag on Adams, but it’s worth $20.14 million in cash and salary cap and isn’t an effective use of cap space. A new long-term deal could be a win-win-win: Adams could make more cash in Year 1 than with the franchise tag, the Packers could push the money around to give Adams a lower cap number, and keeping Adams in the fold will keep Rodgers happy.

General manager Brian Gutekunst may have complicated matters this past week when he told reporters that he never promised Rodgers he would trade him this offseason if that’s what Rodgers desired. Rodgers may believe otherwise.


“I think the whole conversation with Aaron last season before he came back was that, regardless, at the end of the past season, that we would sit down as a group and we would work it out one way or another,” Gutekunst said.

Still, it would be a major surprise if Rodgers isn’t back in Green Bay. He said recently his relationship with Gutekunst has grown “a lot” since last year, and the Packers are allowing Rodgers to have some say in team matters. They hired his former coach, Tom Clements, and, most likely, will bring Adams back.

“Aaron is a part of the conversation of things that do affect his job,” Gutekunst said.

The Deshaun Watson situation continues to hang over the Texans.Justin Rex/Associated Press

▪ The Texans need to determine the trade market for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Despite facing 22 lawsuits and the potential for criminal charges, Watson should still be heavily courted this offseason.

The biggest issue is the ongoing criminal investigation in regards to the 22 massage therapists who have accused Watson of sexual misconduct. Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said Monday that he expects a decision from the grand jury by April 1 to determine whether Watson will be charged with any crimes, and if he is, whether they are felony or misdemeanor. But the civil cases could proceed indefinitely.

If Watson is cleared of criminal charges, then the bidding should be intense, despite the lawsuits. Watson will only turn 27 in September, he’s under contract for four more years, and he could make an instant contender out of whichever team acquires him. (The Steelers, Commanders, Buccaneers, Broncos, and Saints all should be in on him.) Texans GM Nick Caserio could be looking at a return of three first-round picks, plus more. If Watson is charged, then commissioner Roger Goodell will likely suspend him, and Watson’s trade value will plummet.


Watson’s status won’t be clear at the Combine. But Caserio can at least lay the groundwork for a major trade.

▪ The 49ers have to determine the market for Jimmy Garoppolo.

While Watson is the better quarterback, Garoppolo may be the first quarterback traded, just because of Watson’s complicated legal status. Garoppolo also doesn’t have a no-trade clause in 2022, while Watson does, meaning a team that knows it won’t be big players in the Watson derby can instead focus on Garoppolo. Plus, the 49ers surely want to eliminate the Garoppolo distraction as quickly and painlessly as possible this offseason.

A trade can’t officially be executed until the new NFL league year begins at 4 p.m. on March 16, but the terms can be agreed to at any time. The Panthers, Commanders, Broncos, and Saints all seem like good fits for Garoppolo.

▪ Several teams need to figure out the quarterback market.

The Panthers, Buccaneers, Commanders, Saints, Steelers, and Broncos need to find a starter. The Colts, Texans, Lions, and Falcons are at least looking at their options. The Cardinals, Seahawks, and Packers probably don’t plan on changing quarterbacks but need to be prepared for the possibility.


Jimmy Garoppolo seems like the most likely candidate to move on this year's quarterback carousel.Ronald Martinez/Getty

The market for veteran quarterbacks should be hotter this year, because it’s not supposed to be the best year for rookies. But assuming that Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray stay with their teams, the veteran QB market is thin after Watson and Garoppolo.

Carson Wentz could shake free, but his stock has plummeted the last two years. And the list of free agents includes many of the uninspiring names that have been available the last several years: Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston (coming off a torn ACL), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota, and Mitchell Trubisky. Also, Blaine Gabbert, Mike Glennon, Geno Smith, A.J. McCarron, and Colt McCoy.

The Combine will be the time for teams to determine if they are going to land Watson or Garoppolo, or if they need to consider a Plan B.

▪ The Combine is also a big week for teams to decide on using a franchise tag.

The deadline to use the tag is March 8, a day after the Combine ends. It comes with a one-year, fully guaranteed salary, and can often serve as a place-holder for a long-term deal. The top candidates for the tag, in addition to Adams, are Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, Chargers receiver Mike Williams, Bengals safety Jessie Bates, Titans pass rusher Harold Landry, Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis, Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki, Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, Saints safety Marcus Williams, Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown, and Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson.


▪ Teams need to get their salary cap in order, too.

Every team needs to be compliant with the cap when the new league year begins. The Combine will be an important time for teams and agents to meet with players to discuss extensions, pay cuts, and releases.

The salary cap is expected to jump from $182.5 million to $208.2 million. Still, 12 teams are currently projected to be over the cap: the Buccaneers, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Falcons, Titans, Giants, Vikings, Rams, Cowboys, Packers, and Saints. And a team such as the Patriots, with only about $5 million in effective cap space, needs to do some maneuvering.


Viewers are measure of event’s popularity

The NFL Scouting Combine has become a TV event of its own.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

A few notes on the Combine, which runs March 1-7 in Indianapolis:

▪ The event is back after being scrapped in 2021 because of the pandemic. The changes from 2020 remain — namely, that the on-field drills will be held in prime time. Quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends will do their drills Thursday night. Offensive linemen and running backs will go Friday, defensive linemen and linebackers Saturday, and defensive backs, kickers, and special teamers Sunday.

The live TV component is likely why the threat of a boycott from approximately 150 of the 324 participants was so effective in eliminating the “bubble” concept, which was initially planned for the draft prospects. NFL Network, which has exclusive rights to the event, is planning on more than 50 hours of live coverage, including seven hours of programming Thursday night with the quarterbacks and receivers.

The NFL has turned the Combine into a made-for-TV event, and you need the actors (who aren’t getting paid) to participate.

▪ Georgia has the most invitees of any school with 14, followed by Alabama and Oklahoma (11), LSU and Texas A&M (9), and Cincinnati, Michigan, Mississippi, Penn State, and surprisingly Arizona State (8). Clemson only has four invitees this year.

Also represented at the Combine: Fordham, Liberty, Sam Houston State, Southern Utah, Fayetteville State, and Culver-Stockton College, an NAIA school in Missouri with an enrollment of 1,000.

▪ Three local colleges will have players at the Combine, as well. Boston College will send three: linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley, and offensive linemen Zion Johnson and Alec Lindstrom, whose older brother, Chris, was a first-round pick by the Falcons in 2019.

UConn will be represented by defensive lineman Travis Jones and Brown is sending quarterback E.J. Perry.

▪ Speaking of quarterbacks, this year’s class has a distinct small-school feel. Of the 15 invited to the Combine, eight come from outside the Power Five conferences (I include Notre Dame in the Power Five), from places such as Western Michigan, Liberty, Kent State, and Southeast Louisiana.

▪ Most of the NFL’s head coaches and GMs will also hold news conferences over the first two days of the Combine. You’ll be shocked to learn that the Patriots are the only team that doesn’t plan on making their head coach or GM available. Bill Belichick hasn’t spoken at the Combine since 2014.


Mulligan’s journey an inspirational story

Maine native Matthew Mulligan went from a tiny town up north to a lengthy NFL career without even playing high school football.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Matthew Mulligan certainly never expected to have a nine-year NFL career, including a stop with the Patriots in 2013 that included catching a touchdown pass from Tom Brady. He grew up in the small Northern Maine town of Enfield (population around 1,100), his graduating high school class had 38 kids, and Mulligan never even played organized football until the University of Maine.

Now Mulligan, 37 and five years removed from the NFL, is using his story to try to motivate kids everywhere, but especially in his home state. Mulligan and his wife, Stephanie, self-published a book about Mulligan’s journey, “Just a Kid From Maine.” The book is intended for ages 6-12, and was illustrated by Marvel Comics artist Rich Parker.

“It’s just about showing kids that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, that you can make it,” Mulligan said this past week. “You may not be from a big city or have a big name, but it’s about your work ethic, your mentality, seeing something and going for it.”

Mulligan played for 11 teams, reaching three AFC Championship games (two with the Jets and one with the Patriots), and last playing five years ago in the wild-card round for the Lions. He and his wife have three kids and have settled back in Northern Maine. Last year, Mulligan served as the head strength coach for the University of Maine football team. This year, he plans to open a gym and do sport-specific training.

Mulligan and his wife published the book through her company, McSea Books, and are spending this winter and spring promoting the book at schools across Maine. They sold out of their initial allotment and have 3,000 more on the way.

“We talk to kids about being just a kid from Maine, and whatever their dreams are, not just professional athletes,” Mulligan said. “It’s about going hard, giving everything you’ve got, and making sure whatever your dreams are, they come true.”

Politicians looking for owners to pay for actions

Maybe this is just hot air from politicians looking to score brownie points from constituents, but all owners of teams hoping for tax breaks for new stadiums might have to adjust their expectations.

Three congressional Democrats have sponsored a bill called the No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act. The bill is intended to stop giving handouts to billionaires, and comes in response to the legions of sexual assault accusations lobbied against the Commanders over the past year and the NFL’s odious investigation and follow-up that did not lead to any real consequences for Dan Snyder or his team. The Commanders are seeking a new stadium in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia.

“The NFL has proven once again that it can’t play by the rules,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said via the Washington Post. “As such, taxpayers-subsidized municipal bonds should no longer be a reward for the Washington Commanders and other teams that continue to operate workplaces that are dens of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

“It doesn’t make economic sense, and it’s particularly galling given the league’s longstanding failure to address issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault as well as ongoing racial and gender discrimination and domestic violence.”

Extra points

Andrew Whitworth seems undecided on his future after capping an excellent career with his first Super Bowl.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

It’s hard to imagine anyone having a more decorated football career, from the preps to the pros, than Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth. He was a three-time state champion at West Monroe (La.) High School. He was a freshman All-American, four-year starter, two-time All-SEC honoree, and a BCS national champion at LSU. Whitworth was a second-round pick in 2006, missed just 17 games in 16 years with the Bengals and Rams, earned three All-Pro honors, and was selected to four Pro Bowls. In 2021, he became the first offensive tackle to play at age 40, finally won his first Super Bowl, and earned the NFL’s most prestigious honor, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Even though Whitworth is leaning toward retirement, he said his neighbor, former hockey great Wayne Gretzky, gave him a new perspective. “He was like, ‘Hey Whit, there’s only one thing better than winning one, and that’s winning two,’ ” Whitworth said this past week. “And I said, ‘You know what, I can’t argue with you.’ It’s going to be tough.” . . . One reason for Brady to come out of retirement: There’s still an NFL record he doesn’t own. Brady was 44 years and 173 days when he played in his last game. But Steve DeBerg owns the record for the oldest quarterback to appear in a game, at 44 years and 279 days. Brady will be 45 in August . . . Player snap counts have been official stats since 2011, and the 2021 season marked the first year that no quarterback played 100 percent of his team’s snaps. Only 17 offensive players appeared in every snap in 2021, and all 17 were offensive linemen. Justin Herbert (missed five snaps) and Trevor Lawrence (seven snaps) came the closest . . . One interesting nugget from the new book “Playmakers” by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: “[Robert] Kraft once told me he wants Belichick to work deep into his 80s, like Warren Buffet or Rupert Murdoch.” Belichick turns 70 in April, so that timetable would give him another 12-15 years with the Patriots.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.