Reading Between the Lines at the NFL Combine

Kate Magdziuk
Rotoworld

The 2020 NFL Combine is upon us: a magical time, filled with hand size, wingspan, and agility drills galore. While the draft community is aflutter with 40-times and interview darlings, let’s talk about some of the underlying buzz – vet talk.

Rule number one heading into the draft: believe nothing. Everyone has something to gain by spinning the rumor mill. Franchises have the opportunity to talk up their trade bait to reap maximum value. Impending free agents have the chance to stir the pot to create an influx of cash on the open market. Approaching all news with a healthy dose of skepticism this time of year is smart.

With that, let’s dig in and examine some of the latest chatter straight out of the NFL combine.

Newton's the Guy

But maybe not. In early February, Panthers owner David Tepper commented, candidly, that the future of the Panthers’ franchise quarterback is dependent on his health. It’s an obvious assumption. It’s understandable, given that the 2015 MVP has finished his last two seasons on the injured reserve, looking like a shell of his former self.

It’s been no secret that the Panthers could save $19 million by moving on from Newton. In order to gain any kind of return in the process, the Panthers will have to sell the idea that he’s healthy … and other teams will need to buy into the idea, too.

This week, we finally heard from Panthers head coach Matt Rhule on the subject. He stated, “I really want him on the team,” and spoke somewhat encouragingly regarding Newton’s rehab process. They now say there’s hope Newton could be medically cleared as early as March – a vote of confidence in comparison to what we heard just weeks ago from Tepper. Whether or not they actually believe in his health remains to be seen, but it’s reasonable to think that it serves their best interest to perpetuate the idea that they do.

Brady’s Not Returning to New England

Or is he? Seeing superstars hit free agency is always a treat, considering how rarely it happens. Seeing the greatest player of all-time hit free agency? Even better. It’s one of the NFL’s most exciting storylines heading into the 2020 NFL Season, and sports media knows it. As beat reporters, agents and team insiders have come together this week, we’ve graduated from the near-certainty of Brady’s return to New England to a whirlwind of speculation regarding his future home.

The interesting thing about these rumors is that they can work both ways to give Brady the most possible leverage heading into payday. NFL Network’s Michael Giardi notes that in the last several days, teams like the Titans, Raiders and Giants have been rumored to be interested in Brady. The Giants are a particularly perplexing candidate, after having just drafted Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick in 2019 NFL Draft and given their notoriety as the team to keep not one, but two rings off of Brady’s fingers.

In his final article with Rotoworld, Jesse Pantuosco highlighted the ups and downs of Brady’s free-agency saga in a way that I never could. While we enjoy the ride, it’s worth remembering that regardless of his intentions, it serves him well for us to continue speculating. He’s made it well-known that 2020 is not the year of the hometown discount – it’s time to get paid, and these rumors are just the ticket to drive up the cost, wherever he signs.

Diggs Isn’t on The Block

But are we sure? Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs has made plenty of splashes within the last year. He made it no secret that he was frustrated with the Vikings Offense, between comments on social media and his own confirmation with the media. Diggs logged his second consecutive season with 1,000+ receiving yards in 2019, but Diggs wants what most young wideouts want – the ball, as often as possible.

Despite achieving a career-high in receiving yards, it’s worth noting that it was with great efficiency - averaging 18.0 yards per reception. Despite ranking 15th in receiving yards, he ranked just 34th in targets. That’s right – he saw fewer targets than guys like Cole Beasley, Dede Westbrook, Danny Amendola and Jamison Crowder … all of whom come with a much lower price tag.

Diggs carries $9 million in dead cap for the 2020 season but is under contract through the 2023 season. If the Vikings really are willing to entertain offers for the 26-year-old wideout, they should expect some reasonable compensation. The best way to drum up interest? Make it known that he’s not for sale. It’s human nature. We all want what we can’t have, right?

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