Don’t believe the height.
Or better yet, don’t believe the hype about the height.
Kyler Murray’s height — or lack thereof — has been the hottest NFL topic since the Oklahoma quarterback announced his decision to give up baseball’s moneybags for football’s greenbacks.
Certainly height is important — Murray is anywhere from 5 feet 8 inches to 6 feet, depending on what you read and who you believe — but perhaps the more important measuring stick when judging Murray is the excitement level he’ll bring.
In 2012, Russell Wilson slipped to the third round largely because of concerns about his height. Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler all boasting prototypical QB measurables, were drafted ahead of the 5-11 Wilson, who has two Super Bowl appearances and one title under his belt. The other three have a combined one playoff win.
Murray is, let’s go with 5-9⅞ because that’s what the Sooners say he measured out at in the preseason. He brings so many qualities to the table that his height isn’t something teams should be overly concerned about. Why? Because he’s not.
Murray’s mix of arm strength and nimbleness should wipe out a lot of the doubt about whether he can survive and thrive in the spread-heavy NFL, where coordinators can tailor offenses — and specific game plans — to suit the skills of their signal-caller.
Watching tape of Murray, he’s a master at moving the pocket and manipulating defenses to find passing lanes and deliver darts all over the field. Sure, he’ll be standing in a land of giants at times, but those massive linemen in front of him are constantly moving as well, opening holes. It’s not like Murray will be standing behind a 6-5 picket fence looking for receivers.
Will he have balls batted down at the line of scrimmage? Absolutely. Name an NFL quarterback who doesn’t. Not all of those batted balls will be because he’s vertically challenged. Sometimes a QB’s natural competitive nature gets the best of him and he’ll try to make throws he has no right making. Often as a result of that decision he’ll get his pass rejected right back into his mug.
Also, there’s no panic in his game. Murray is so insanely quick — and confident — that he will hang in his extended pocket until the last millisecond before deciding whether to launch a missile or bolt downfield.
When Murray does decide to pull it down and take off, his speed is blinding. His feet move so fast he looks like the Road Runner blazing through open spaces as a pack of Wile E. Coyote defenders try to stop him.
His athleticism is so elite that it might be logical to project him at a number of positions, but that’d be wrong, according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
“He’s a quarterback. No doubt about it,’’ Kiper said. “His arm strength, his accuracy, his football IQ — today’s NFL suits him perfectly. Yeah, he’s a quarterback all the way.’’
While the consensus is that Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is the top quarterback on the board, Kiper believes there’s a chance Murray could leapfrog him.
“He could. He’s kind of a wild card. But to compare him to Haskins isn’t fair because they’re totally different quarterbacks,’’ said Kiper. “Their style of play would change the way you go about your business on offense if you bring [Murray] in. Haskins is a traditional drop-back passer, where Kyler can do everything. He can throw from the pocket, but you want him outside the pocket. There’s a stat that I talk about that 6-foot-and-under quarterbacks have fewer passes batted down than 6-foot-or-taller quarterbacks. So, the height’s not a big deal, it’s throwing through windows. And he’s smart, and you saw what he did against Alabama after they fell behind early. He didn’t even have [receiver] Marquise Brown healthy for that game and yet he lit up Alabama, that defense with Nick Saban’s defensive acumen. So right now I think it’s a two-horse race. To say which one would be taken first right now, I would lean toward Haskins, but it’s not a lock.’’
Kiper’s latest mock has Murray landing in Miami with new coach Brian Flores at No. 13, but he also believes Oakland (No. 4) and Cincinnati (No. 11) are possible destinations for the Heisman Trophy winner.
“The height, the hand size, the body type, the interviews are going to be important to see if he goes anywhere between Nos. 4 and 13 in the first round,’’ said Kiper.
No matter where Murray lands, he’s in for a big payday, debunking the myth that he was leaving big baseball money on the table. Last year, the top pick in the draft, Baker Mayfield, received a $32.7 million, fully guaranteed deal. Lamar Jackson, the last pick of the first round, earned a $9.5 million pact with $5 million guaranteed.
HERE TO STAY?
Flowers will be a hot commodity
Trey Flowers would be a tremendous addition to any team, but his subtraction from New England would be a big blow to a defense that relied on him as a versatile and valuable leader on the field and in the facility.
Flowers is one of several key “in-house” Patriots free agents due to hit the market — and perhaps the jackpot. The defensive lineman is the team’s most consistent pass rusher and locking him up long term likely is high on the organization’s priority list.
Despite missing most of his rookie season because of a shoulder injury, Flowers, whose preseason sack of Aaron Rodgers that year first opened eyes, immersed himself in the Patriots program, doing everything except suiting up. He rehabbed, worked out, and attended every meeting and film session. Flowers surged through his sophomore season and capped it with a coming-out party in the Super Bowl with a team-high six tackles and 2½ sacks of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
In three full seasons — including playoffs — Flowers has amassed 26.5 sacks, 81 quarterback hits, and untold pressures. He has the speed to beat tackles off the edge and the strength and leverage to beat interior guys when he’s shifted inside on sub packages.
Flowers has been a model of consistency on the field and a model citizen in the locker room. He went from building block to cornerstone. The big question? Will he be around for the long term?
The Patriots could put off the decision for a year by slapping the franchise tag on Flowers, but that’s not their normal modus operandi and that’d be a lot of money ($17.3 million) for a player that could walk after next season.
The contract that is most often used as a comparison for Flowers is the five-year, $85 million pact Olivier Vernon landed from the Giants. Similar to the franchise tag, Vernon’s deal (at an average annual value of $17 million) doesn’t feel like one the Patriots would embrace.
The Patriots have numbers in mind. So does Flowers. Can the sides strike a deal that make both happy?
It’s a question that likely won’t be answered until after March 11, when the so-called “legal tampering period” opens and teams can enter into negotiations with the agents for pending free agents on other teams. That’s when the market for Flowers will become clearer.
What’s already clear is there will be plenty of suitors for a player of Flowers’s caliber and a person of his character. In fact, he could rocket to the top of the list of available defensive ends.
Other comparable players, including Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and Demarcus Lawrence, all are expected to be franchised.
One obvious landing spot could be Detroit, where Lions coach Matt Patricia will be in the market for an impact edge player and has a great history with, and great admiration for, Flowers.
“I think he’s a guy that really tries to improve himself,’’ Patricia said in 2017 while defensive coordinator of the Patriots. “He’s a guy that’s just really kind of accepted a bunch of different roles and has really tried to excel at all of them and just tried to improve every day. He’s great.”
Not only would Flowers help Detroit’s defense, he also would help Patricia in his efforts to change the culture of the organization. You’d never hear Flowers complain about running or practicing in inclement weather.
Another possible destination could be New York, where new Jets coach Adam Gase needs playmakers on defense, is well acquainted with Flowers’s game, and has money to spend.
When all is said and done, my gut feeling is that the Patriots and Flowers will find common ground on a multiyear deal.
Players could be on the move
As for the Patriots’ other key free agents, Stephen Gostkowski seems the most likely to return, whether it is via the franchise tag or a multiyear deal similar to the four-year, $17.2 million one he signed in 2015. Gostkowski is as consistent as they come, hitting 32 of 38 field goals and 59 of 60 extra points in 19 games last season. The second-longest-tenured Patriot after Tom Brady also is brilliant on kickoffs in both the power and placement categories. Fans make a big deal when he misses a field goal, and that’s due in large part because he’s spoiled them by being so good for so long.
■ Like Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen has been lauded by Bill Belichick for his consistently good performances over the last six seasons. Also like Gostkowski, Allen is adept at distance and direction. To cap a great season, the left-footed Allen out-Hekkered Johnny Hekker in the Super Bowl. He’ll have teams knocking on his door, but a return to Foxborough feels inevitable.
■ Trent Brown’s arrival was perfect for the Patriots and for the 6-foot-8-inch, 380-pound, twinkle-toed tackle. He switched coasts and sides seamlessly, establishing himself as a blindside bully for Brady. The big man is going to get a big bag of money, but probably not in New England. The only way it might be possible is if the club feels Isaiah Wynn isn’t close to a return from rehabbing his torn Achilles’. Then a one-year, franchise-tag Band-Aid might be applied.
■ Jason McCourty had a ton of fun and made a ton of plays in his first year in New England. He makes any team better and it makes a lot of sense to try to work out another deal, despite a crowded cornerback room. McCourty’s versatility and professionalism were valuable for the team on the field, and a valuable resource for younger players off it.
■ As for fellow free agent corners, Eric Rowe appears to be the odd man out, while Jonathan Jones (who’s restricted) is likely to stay put.
■ Defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton had their $8 million, fifth-year options declined, which indicates they’d be offered less than that per season to remain. Brown is a two-down bruiser who was swift in backside pursuit. Shelton was inactive for three games down the stretch and again for the AFC Championship game. He bounced back for the Super Bowl, and his lasting image as a Patriot could be his tackle for a loss on C.J. Anderson in that win. Both players could thrive in different schemes.
■ John Simon provided excellent depth as situational pass rusher — and special teams — and it would be easy to see him return on a short-term deal. This is especially true if Trey Flowers does leave.
They received most from Patterson
New England has a quartet of free agent receivers with Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson unrestricted, and Josh Gordon restricted. Of this group, Patterson is the one who could provide the most bang for the buck. He scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, and returning last season as the coaching staff was able to max out his set of skills.
Hogan and Dorsett saw their roles reduced when Gordon was acquired and his role in the offense continued to expand. They had a bit of a renaissance when Gordon was suspended — and both had excellent postseason runs — but it would be hard to envision either playing a major role next season. Both players are consummate professionals and will find work.
Gordon’s impact on the offense was immediate and, at times, immense. A timetable for the talented yet troubled receiver’s return is unknown, and you can believe if the Patriots give him another chance, they’ll have contingency plans in place.
While Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman went south to serve as the honorary starter at the Daytona 500, right guard Shaq Mason went north and was spotted racing down the slopes at King Pine Resort in Madison, N.H., according to marketing director Thomas Prindle . . . Danny Amendola is not a free agent, but it will be interesting to see if new Dolphins coach Brian Flores keeps him around at $6 million. Amendola’s production was down a smidge (59 catches, 575 yards), but he’s a valuable leader Flores could lean on to sell his program. If he’s cut loose, a reunion in New England could make sense for both sides . . . A name to watch (again, if Flowers leaves) is Ziggy Ansah, who played under the franchise tag with the Lions last year but likely won’t return. He’s had injury woes and possibly could be had on a short-term, “prove it” deal. Perhaps his former college teammate, Kyle Van Noy, could help in the recruiting pitch . . . Mel Kiper Jr. has the Patriots selecting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones in his latest mock draft, but with Brown and Shelton poised to possible leave, Kiper was asked about potential plug-and-play defensive tackles, and he rattled off several possibilities. “You look at Jerry Tillery from Notre Dame, Dre’Mont Jones of Ohio State, Gerald Willis III of Miami of Florida are all in that first-round discussion,’’ said Kiper. He then mentioned another intriguing possibility. “The interesting one is going to be Jeffery Simmons of Mississippi State. You’re talking about a kid who has top-10 talent, some would argue top-five talent, that would be there because he had the off-the-field issue [a high school arrest for simple battery] and then he had the ACL injury [suffered earlier this month during drills]. So, if you want to medically redshirt him maybe for a year, you’re getting a top-five, top-10 talent with the final pick in the first round. He’s a tremendous defensive tackle prospect.’’ . . . Nick Cafardo was a ferocious reporter and a friendly soul. Nick was a total pro and a tremendous person. It was an honor to call him a colleague and a friend. He will be missed by everyone at the Globe. Rest in peace.