At NFL Scouting Combine, teams talk quarterbacks
Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws a pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2015 National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)
Quarterbacks were the topic of the day Wednesday for a number of teams at the NFL Scouting Combine, where Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are the top draft prospects at the position.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans have the top two picks in the draft, and both are expected to strongly consider the past two Heisman Trophy winners.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills are exploring their options, both having talked with veteran quarterback Josh McCown, recently released by the Buccaneers.
Also, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Robert Griffin III would enter 2015 as the team's starter, and the St. Louis Rams reportedly have given Sam Bradford permission to seek a trade.
Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith talked up the only quarterback on his roster, Mike Glennon, but the Bucs are expected to use the first overall pick on either Mariota, Oregon's record-setting quarterback, or Winston, Florida State's controversial talent.
Glennon was 1-5 in six starts last season, completing 57.6 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, in a rudderless offense that lost its coordinator just before the start of the season.
Asked if Glennon could be the Bucs' quarterback, Smith said, "Yeah, I think you can definitely say that Mike can be the quarterback that can play at a high level in this league. And I mean, we only have one quarterback on our roster. If you look at the comments I've made about him, yes, I think he can be that guy."
But the Bucs are expected to use the top pick on Mariota or Winston, and Smith said, "I think we'd be comfortable with both guys."
Winston's legal problems will force the Bucs and other teams to evaluate his character closely. He was accused of rape in December 2012, although charges were never filed. He also was arrested for shoplifting in April 2014 and was suspended for a game last season after an obscene outburst on campus.
Smith said the Bucs have conducted their own investigations into Winston's background and, "from what I know right now, we're OK with where he is."
The Titans, who pick second, are expected to strongly consider whichever quarterback is still there. General manager Ruston Webster said he hasn't committed to second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger as the team's starter.
"I don't think that we're at a position to commit to anything," Webster said. "He knows we like him. He knows we value him. And we'll just kind of go from there. ... I'm not ready to commit to anything, including who we're going to pick at No. 2 right now.
"Those are two very good players and we're in a good position. We do like Zach Mettenberger as a player; he's a young quarterback. But these two guys have unique skill sets and so we'll look at that position, as well as others."
The Bears and Bills are looking at the position, too -- both having checked out the 35-year-old McCown, who left Chicago last year for Tampa Bay and now could be headed back to Chicago to play for Fox, who coached him in Carolina in 2008-09.
"There's obviously interest, or we probably wouldn't have met with him," Fox said. "You've got a guy that's had opportunities as a starter in this league. He's served as a backup. He's the right kind of guy, I know from my perspective, you want on your football team."
McCown was 3-2 in 2013 in place of injured Jay Cutler, who was benched by former coach Marc Trestman at the end of last season.
Fox and new Bears general manager Ryan Pace are still evaluating Cutler to decide what they think of him.
"You know, everybody's got perceptions," Fox said. "But I think that getting to know the guy, this is a relationship business, and that takes time. So I don't want to stand up here and give you a final evaluation when I'm maybe a quarter through the test."
Pace said, "Cutler has outstanding physical talent, there's no denying that. It's just getting to know the individual and all of the other intangibles that make a great quarterback. Again, that's what we're doing now. That really takes getting to know the person, right? So that's the process we're going through. Me and John have both been around all different kinds of quarterbacks; it's just figuring out him as a person."
Ryan is going through similar evaluations in Buffalo, where the Bills are unsettled at quarterback after Kyle Orton retired and Manuel did not work out for former coach Doug Marrone's staff.
"Obviously that's priority, not just for our team but any team in this league," Ryan said of finding a quarterback. "But it's a lot easier said than done. It would be nice to get somebody like that. I'm not saying that we have that situation right now. I'm excited about E.J. Manuel, though. He's a young man that has some potential. We'll see how that pans out. We did bring Josh in, so obviously there's some interest there on our part."
In Washington, Gruden said Griffin enters the offseason as the starter. Griffin suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 season and, once he returned, was benched for Colt McCoy until McCoy suffered a season-ending injury after three starts.
Gruden was noncommittal about Griffin immediately after the season, but on Wednesday, he said, "Robert ended the season as the starter and we anticipate that moving forward. ... We'll go into the season with Robert as the No. 1 guy obviously, and it's up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and a person and, moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. That's up to us as a staff to get more out of him."
In St. Louis, the Rams have not gotten much out of Bradford, the former No. 1 overall pick who has missed 25 games in the past two seasons with ACL injuries.
General manager Les Snead said Bradford is not necessarily the team's starter, considering his injury history. The Rams are expected to ask Bradford to reduce his $13 million salary, and they also have given him permission to seek a trade, according to CBSSports.com.
"Contract-wise, we'll deal with him and his agents on that. I think it'll work out," Snead said. "We want a healthy Sam Bradford. It's great to talk about. I like to look at the part where if he's good for some team he's good for us."
SALARY CAP TO BE $140-143M
The NFL expects this year's salary cap to be between $140 million and $143 million, at least $1.5 million higher than projected, ESPN reported Wednesday.
League sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the NFL notified teams Wednesday.
The league had informed team executives at the owners meeting in December that the 2015 salary cap would be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million.
The 2014 league salary cap was $133 million, which was a $10 million jump from 2013.
This year's cap will take effect on March 10, when the 2015 league year and free agency period begin.