NFL insider notes: Finding truth in what general managers said at the 2020 combine, and what it really means

INDIANAPOLIS – Is your head still spinning from Tuesday? Were you able to keep up with the whirlwind interview schedule from the 2020 NFL Combine, as the NFL’s new schedule here thrust most of the coaches, general managers and top quarterback prospects in the draft all in front of podiums at essentially the same time?

It was a lot to process. And, as per the usual, there wasn’t a whole lot of real news made, as the various speakers are well adept at being coy enough as to their true desires and intentions. No one is really going to speak his mind and risk alienating future employers or future employees – there is nothing to be gained from that – but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to infer and unpack from what thee various individuals had to say before the cameras and microphones as the scouting combine officially kicked off.

And that’s why I’m here.

The truth is often is what is left unsaid, or it’s revealed in the manner in which certain sentiments or emotions are couched. The cadence and word choice can be telling. Even the sentence structure. With that in mind, I’m going to continue a quasi-annual rite of passage here in Indy and translate what a few of these players, coaches, and executives were really trying to convey when they met the media on Tuesday.

Raiders general manager Mike Mayock on QB Derek Carr:

“Derek played at a high level last season. I’m very happy with Derek. But as I’ve said before, we will evaluate every position on our roster, and if there’s a chance to upgrade, we will look into that.”

Translation: We heard that Don Yee, Tom Brady’s agent, is landing sometime Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis. We will have people staking him out at the airport. He’s not going to be here that long and we are going to do whatever we can to land a meeting with him. Also, don’t forget about us unloading Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper a year ago to land maximum draft capital. That wasn’t just for 2019. If Tua’s hip checks out, we can move up into the top five no problem. And we could trade Carr even after the draft if we had to, with that contract being so team-friendly. We’re moving to Vegas, baby. And we’re thinking big.

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians on Jameis Winston and his QB position in 2020: 

“You don’t know what trades might happen. You don’t know who is behind Door No. 2 yet. Then you can make a decision.”

Bucs GM Jason Licht: “We feel we can win with Winston.”

Translation: We should know by the end of the week what Philip Rivers is gonna cost. Yeah, no one would ever tamper, but let’s be real about what’s going on here this week. And Jamies needs some time to see what exactly he could fetch on the open market, too. We might not be able to do better than him, and we still have a few weeks before we need to decide on a franchise tag. Can we find another 26-year-old with the potential Jameis has? Doubtful. And starting over with a draft pick ain’t in the cards.

Soon-to-be first overall draft pick Joe Burrow: 

“I’m not going to not play (for the Bengals if picked first overall). I’m a ball player. I’m going to show up.”

Translation: Somebody rescue me! When you have to resort to double negatives to embrace, barely, the prospect of being the first pick and going to a team only a few hours from your home … and it takes months to reach the point where I even, finally, made this statement, well, come on, draw your own conclusions. I’m not going to get into a staring contest with Mike Brown in public and going DefCon 5 and threatening to sit out a year isn’t really in my DNA … But hey, Dolphins, Raiders, Chargers, whoever else really needs a young QB, you can see this for the SOS that it is, right? Make these dudes an offer they can’t refuse. You think Carson Palmer doesn’t talk to his brother Jordan, the guy who is training me for the draft? Do you see me doing cartwheels up here and talking about how amazing it would be to win a Super Bowl in Ohio? Yeah, me neither.

New Panthers coach Matt Rhule on Cam Newton

“I absolutely want Cam here, there’s no doubt about that.”

Translation: Don’t forget about the part where I also said that I am open to any trade that I believe makes our team better. And the part where I declined to declare Newton my Week 1 starter. And the part where I didn’t rule out drafting a QB, either. Basically, disregard the latest “report” from NFL Network about Newton’s future, because we don’t know for sure yet, and we just got to the combine and haven’t even had a chance to talk to anyone yet, and we have a driven owner who gave me a seven-year deal and isn’t afraid to make bold decisions, and Cam still isn’t even healthy. Stay tuned. David Tepper prying me out of Baylor shocked people a few weeks back. We aren’t bound by conventional wisdom.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa: 

“Once March 9 hits, and we’re cleared to go, I’ll be ready to do everything.”

Translation: Sleep on my Pro Day at your own risk. Yeah, Joe Burrow had an amazing season, but go back and read all of your scouting reports and projects before my hip injury. Remember what you thought of me and how many GMs, when asked privately by people like the dude writing this column, said they preferred me to Joe. And now you might not have to go all the way up to first overall to land me. It’s go time. Jon Gruden, you spend years salivating over mobile stud college QB. Come and get one. LA, my kind of town and as close as you can get to Hawaii in the NFL. Dolphins, better not sit around with that fifth pick thinking I’ll still be there, and kill that Justin Herbert smokescreen noise.  

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