The interviews and workouts are complete. Draft boards are set. It’s time to get on with the show.
NFL Draft week is finally here, with the event taking place Thursday night through Saturday night on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a draft that, thanks to a lack of star power at quarterback and wide receiver, is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in nearly two decades.
Let’s take an inside look at this year’s draft:
▪ Get ready for long nights on Thursday and Friday. The first round has lasted 3:44 and 3:54 the last two years, and the second night, consisting of Rounds 2 and 3, has lasted 4:26 and 4:49. Saturday is a marathon for the hard-core fans, with Rounds 4-7 taking six-plus hours.
This year also has more picks than ever — 262, tied with 2003 for the most since the draft was cut from 12 rounds to eight in 1993. It’s an increase from 259 last year and 255 in 2020, and is due to an addition to the Rooney Rule that awards third-round compensatory picks to teams that have a minority coach or front office executive hired away by another team as a head coach or general manager. The third round will have 41 picks.
▪ This year, the draft has 39 compensatory picks, with seven “special” picks coming at the end of the third round. They were awarded to the Browns (Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah), Ravens (former Texans coach David Culley), Eagles (via the Saints, Falcons GM Terry Fontenot), Dolphins (via the 49ers, Commanders GM Martin Mayhew and Jets coach Robert Saleh), Chiefs (Bears GM Ryan Poles), Rams (Lions GM Brad Holmes), and 49ers (Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel).
▪ NFL general managers are not afraid to trade draft picks. As of Friday, 88 picks had already been traded. Last year also saw 88 pre-draft trades, plus 35 more on draft weekend.
Seventeen picks have already been traded twice, including the 16th pick (Colts to Eagles to Saints) and the 29th pick (49ers to Dolphins to Chiefs). Picks 6-206 and 7-224 have already been traded three times.
▪ Eight teams have multiple first-round picks. The Lions have picks 2 and 32. The Texans have 3 and 13. The Jets have 4 and 10. The Giants have 5 and 7. The Eagles have 15 and 18. The Saints have 16 and 19. The Packers have 22 and 28. And the Chiefs have 29 and 30.
The eight teams that don’t have a first-round pick, and the players acquired for them: Bears (Justin Fields), Broncos (Russell Wilson), Browns (Deshaun Watson), Dolphins (Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill), Colts (Carson Wentz), Raiders (Davante Adams), 49ers (Trey Lance), and Rams (Matthew Stafford).
▪ The Patriots have the 21st pick for the seventh time in franchise history. The last came in 2012 with Chandler Jones, and they also have landed Laurence Maroney, Vince Wilfork, Daniel Graham, Tim Fox, and John Charles with the pick.
The 21st pick has produced Randy Moss and Lynn Swann but has been mixed in recent years. Alex Mack, Tyler Eifert, and Will Fuller have had varied NFL success, while recent picks Kwity Paye, Jalen Reagor, and Darnell Savage Jr. have struggled.
▪ Bills — Have nine picks, with one in each round and an extra in the sixth round. Their first pick is 25th overall.
▪ Dolphins — Only have four draft picks left: picks in the third (102nd overall), fourth, and two in the seventh. They traded the 15th pick in last year’s draft for Waddle, and the 29th and 50th picks to the Chiefs for Hill. Their other third-rounder was traded to the Giants.
“We were trying to figure out what we were going to do on draft day,” Dolphins GM Chris Grier said, “and one of the guys said we’ll just watch Tyreek highlights in the draft room to make us feel good.”
▪ Jets — Have nine picks, all in the top five rounds, and a ton of capital at the top. The Jets have picks 4, 10 (Jamal Adams trade), 35, 38 (Sam Darnold), and 69.
▪ Patriots — Have eight picks, one each in the first four rounds, two each in the fifth and sixth. Their first pick is No. 21.
▪ The Rams, as usual, have traded most of their top picks. And the teams that acquired those picks got the worst return possible thanks to the Rams winning the Super Bowl and getting the 32nd pick in each round.
The teams that un-lucked out: Lions (pick 1-32 for Stafford), Broncos (picks 2-64 and 3-96 for Von Miller), Panthers (pick 4-137 via Houston for Brandin Cooks), and Patriots (pick 6-210 for Sony Michel).
The Rams still have eight picks, with five being compensatory selections.
▪ Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler are going to be relatively bored on draft weekend after trading their first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams. The Raiders’ first pick is 86th overall in the third round, and they have just five picks total.
▪ Nick Caserio is going to be plenty busy. The Texans have 11 picks, including five of the top 80. Caserio said he doesn’t expect to get much trade action at No. 3, but No. 13 is possible. This year is a good opportunity to put young talent around quarterback Davis Mills.
▪ Brian Daboll and the Giants are also loaded at the top of the draft: Nos. 5, 7, 36, 67, and 81. Don’t be surprised to see new Giants GM Joe Schoen try to spin one of the top-10 picks into a 2023 first-rounder.
▪ The Chiefs are another team that will be busy on draft weekend as they retool their offense. The Chiefs have 12 draft picks, including Nos. 29 and 30 in the first round and six picks in the first three rounds.
▪ The Panthers have No. 6 but don’t pick again until No. 137 in the fourth round after trading three picks for Darnold and C.J. Henderson. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers simply take the quarterback they want at No. 6, even if it is considered a reach, or if they try to trade down and land more picks in the second and third round.
▪ Finally, a story line to watch: Will any of the quarterbacks get selected in the top 10? Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis are the best bets, but in other years both would likely be drafted much lower. Only two out of 22 drafts this century have not had a quarterback drafted in the top 10 — 2000 (Chad Pennington at No. 18) and 2013 (EJ Manuel at No. 16). At least two QBs have gone in the top 10 in each year since 2015.
DEAL WITH IT
Potential holdouts lacking leverage
Kyler Murray is disgruntled with the Cardinals and threatening a holdout. Deebo Samuel told ESPN he asked for a trade out of San Francisco. And A.J. Brown scrubbed his social media of all things Titans.
Each player from the 2019 draft class has come down with a case of contract-itis. This offseason, between their third and fourth NFL seasons, is the first time the collective bargaining agreement allows them to renegotiate their contracts. They see the crazy money being given to Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams and want in on the action. Murray is scheduled to make just $5.5 million this year. Samuel and Brown are on the books for an identical $3.986 million in the final year of their contracts. Between option years and the franchise tag, Samuel and Brown may not hit true unrestricted free agency until 2025, and Murray not until 2026.
Unfortunately for them, just because they want a new contract, or potentially want a trade, doesn’t mean they will get it. Cardinals GM Steve Keim was asked Thursday about trading Murray and said, “Zero chance.” Titans GM Jon Robinson was asked about trading Brown and said, “I do not foresee that happening.” The 49ers haven’t responded to Samuel’s demand, but Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area pointed out that running back Raheem Mostert and kicker Robbie Gould requested trades in recent years but ended up signing new contracts with the 49ers.
The rookie wage scale and low salaries for Murray, Samuel, and Brown are a main feature of the CBA. Every team’s goal is to find star players through the draft and keep them locked into low-paying contracts for four to five years. The only reason, from a team perspective, to do an early contract extension is to get a good discount on a star player.
The teams also have most of the control in this situation. If Murray, Samuel, or Brown don’t report to training camp, they are assessed mandatory fines, risk forfeiting their entire salary, and don’t get a year credited toward free agency. The players’ only weapon is to “hold in” — show up for camp but put forth as little effort as possible.
It’s certainly possible each team is just playing coy to drive up the asking price. Last week I wrote about how tempting it should be to trade Murray to the Panthers for a haul of picks, roll with Baker Mayfield for a year, and then reassess in 2023. But Keim on Thursday was resolute in not wanting to deal Murray, and suggested that the team will address his contract after the draft. Murray must have gotten the message, because by late Thursday afternoon he tweeted, “I wanna win Super Bowls with the Cardinals, AZ is home.”
If the 49ers do trade Samuel, the Jets are the obvious landing spot. Coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur coached Samuel in San Francisco, while the Jets have multiple first-round picks and a need for a receiver (they were in on Hill). The Jets would also probably take Brown in a heartbeat, as would about 28 other teams.
But just because the players request a trade doesn’t necessarily mean they will get it. Nor does it mean a fat contract is coming soon, either.
Ward has cornered market with Browns
The Browns not only gave Deshaun Watson the largest guarantee in NFL history this offseason ($230 million over five years), they also made Denzel Ward the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL this past week. His five-year extension is worth $20.1 million per year, slightly edging the $20 million per year for the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey.
The contract begs the question: Why would a zone-heavy defense such as the Browns invest so much in a single cornerback, even if he is one of the best in the NFL?
Former seven-year NFL safety Matt Bowen, now with ESPN’s “NFL Matchup,” provided the insight. Ward plays a position that has become essential — “boundary” cornerback. Bowen explained that instead of using Ward on a team’s No. 1 receiver, they usually line him up on the short side of the field — the left side when the ball is on the left hash, and the right side when it is on the right hash.
Whether the Browns are in zone or man, they’re still asking him to lock down the outside receiver on jump balls, deep fades, and other sideline routes. With Ward conceivably defending the short side of the field by himself, it allows the defense to roll safeties and linebackers over to the large side of the field.
“If that boundary corner can lock that X receiver, now you can take your safety and push him to the middle of the field, and that’s how you’re adding numbers,” Bowen said. “You saw the Browns do that to the Chiefs a couple years ago. They locked Denzel Ward vs. Travis Kelce on the back side, and that gave them an extra safety playing to the field with Tyreek Hill.”
Panthers owner and New Jersey native David Tepper is not making many friends in Charlotte. The Panthers and the town of Rock Hill, S.C., are pointing fingers at each other over failed plans to bring team headquarters, a retail center, concert venue, and more to the Charlotte suburb. The deal was announced in 2019, shovels went in the ground in 2020, but the Panthers halted construction in March when they accused Rock Hill of reneging on a commitment of $225 million in bonds. This past week, the Charlotte Observer reported the project is “dead.” South Carolina state senator Wes Climer quipped that “David Tepper came to Rock Hill promising us Jerry Jones, and ever since then he’s given us Dan Snyder.” . . . 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo provided his first updates Thursday since undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder March 8. Garoppolo said he hasn’t picked up a ball yet or started throwing, but that his rehab is going well. Garoppolo will miss the offseason program but hopes to be ready for the start of training camp. As to where he will be traded to, Garoppolo said, “I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may, keep working my [butt] off, and when you do that, good things will happen to you.” . . . In an interesting interview this past week with The 33rd Team, former Raiders GM Mike Mayock postured that he was fired, despite the Raiders’ surprising run to the playoffs, because he adamantly supported the Raiders keeping interim coach Rich Bisaccia on a full-time basis. Raiders owner Mark Davis instead decided to start fresh after the Jon Gruden fiasco and went with Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels as his GM and coach. Mayock, a former Boston College football and baseball player, also noted that he once tried to get another special teams coach, John Harbaugh, the head coaching job at BC, but the Eagles barely showed any interest back in 2007. Instead, the job went to Jeff Jagodzinski, and Harbaugh got the Ravens’ job in 2008 . . . Boston College left tackle Tyler Vrabel is likely a Day 3 draft pick or undrafted free agent, but we can probably count out the Titans as a destination. “I don’t think that’s good for anybody,” said Tyler’s dad, Titans coach Mike Vrabel . . . You’ve got to admire Colin Kaepernick’s persistence to get back in the NFL. Nearly six years after he was blackballed by the league, Kaepernick, 34, is holding a barnstorming tour of workouts across the country, per Sports Illustrated. He went to eight cities from March 14-24 and threw with receivers such as Tyler Lockett and Jarvis Landry, and made an appearance at Michigan’s spring game this month thanks to an invitation from Jim Harbaugh, his former coach with the 49ers. “If I have to come in as a backup, that fine. But that’s not where I’m staying,” Kaepernick told the “I Am Athlete” podcast. “More than anything, we’re just looking for a chance to walk through a door. I’ll handle the rest from there.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.