Inside the draft conversations that happen at the NFL combine

Mike Tannenbaum has a good idea of ​​what Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles is going to experience at the annual NFL scouting camp in Indianapolis.

Tannenbaum, now an Sportzshala analyst, was the CEO of the New York Jets in February 2006 when he spotted Houston Texans CEO Charlie Casserley at the airport on his way to the factory. That year, Houston held the No. 1 pick while the Jets took the No. 4 pick.

During the 2006 off-season and up until the eve of the draft, many expected USC running back Reggie Bush to be the No. 1 overall pick. There was only one problem. Houston was uncomfortable recruiting a Heisman Trophy winner in that spot years before the NFL introduced a rookie pay scale.

“Charlie says, ‘We’d love to be back by four, would you be interested in the first pick overall?'” Tannenbaum recalls. “I was half joking, ‘Of course Charlie, what else would you give us to go from four to one?’

“He says, ‘We really don’t want to [Bush] first place overall.” I said, “Yes, and so are we,” Tannenbaum laughed.

These candid conversations between general managers and the gathering of information that takes place between interviews with draft candidates, meetings with players’ agents, and informal conversations with teammates are a common occurrence when the entire NFL world gathers in Indianapolis.

The Poles will be in high demand at the mill this week as the off-season actually runs through Chicago. Not only are the Bears in first place overall for a year where eight to twelve teams might want to switch quarterbacks, Chicago also has an estimated $100 million in salary cap to use as free agents.

While the Poles will no doubt be in talks with other teams, and Sportzshala’s Adam Schefter reported on Monday that the Bears are leaning towards a spade trade, the Poles won’t have time to hold court at St. Elmo Steak House and submit offers.

“He wouldn’t do that,” former New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller said. “You have so much to do with your own team and your own team’s schedule that there just isn’t time for it.”

Powles is firmly committed to his approach to revamping the Bears roster. In January, he reaffirmed his commitment to quarterback Justin Fields, who was drafted 11th overall by the Bears in 2021, and said he would have to “deflate” to make the QB nomination in April. Alabama Bryce Young He is expected to be the first quarterback.

This information could give other teams an edge in what they offer for the No. 1 overall pick. And if the Poles aren’t interested in what the Bears get in return, he can stay put.

“We have the flexibility when there are opportunities and if we can turn that into a lot of players coming in and helping us, we can do it,” Powles said. “If you need to stay put or be really selective about certain people, we can do that too. I know that my expectation, our expectation, is that we move the needle to do better. We can win some of those close games and bring in guys who can make an impact on this football team.”

Should the bears actively seek to move away from the No. 1 position when talk of a trading partner starts?

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1967, the No. 1 pick has been traded 12 times before the start of the draft. The last time that happened was in 2016, when the Los Angeles Rams moved from No. 15 to No. 1 two weeks before they drafted California quarterback Jared Goff. It was only the second time in 22 years that No. 1 changed hands before the draft (in 2001, the Atlanta Falcons had moved up from No. 2 in the Michael Vick draft with the No. 1 pick in 2001).

In each of the last two seasons, the draft order has changed dramatically in the weeks leading up to the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles and Saints reversed the order in the first round on April 4, 2022, with New Orleans receiving two first-round picks (No. 16 and No. 19) and one in the sixth round, while the Eagles were No. 1. 18, which they eventually traded to the Tennessee Titans in a package for wide receiver AJ Brown and a host of other picks. On March 26, 2021, the Dolphins made two trades that began with a first-round pick trade with the San Francisco 49ers, which the 49ers used to draft quarterback Trey Lance before trading several picks with the Eagles.

Those deals didn’t go through on the morning they were announced. The combine and other off-season events have become a breeding ground for frank conversations to gauge interest.

In January 1997, Mueller, then vice president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks, met with former Bears chairman Michael McCaskey and general manager Rod Graves at an East-West game. Over sandwiches, the three discussed quarterback Rick Meerer, who was traded from Seattle to Chicago a month later.

In 2009, the Jets went from 17th to 5th overall in the draft for quarterback Mark Sanchez. From the Senior Bowl in January to the mill in late February, Tannenbaum tried to figure out where he could find a trading partner.

“It was very informal,” Tannenbaum said. “I went in and out of other teams’ suites. [at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, where combine workouts took place]. Detroit had the No. 1 pick that year and didn’t budge. [Matthew] Stafford. Do you really want to start getting an idea of ​​the landscape where, okay, we’re at 17, which is realistic? How high can we go?”

After months of maneuvering, the Jets made a 12-point jump while on the clock in the first round of the draft.

The Poles’ first joint experience with the Bears was spent preparing for more than 20 players from the 2021 roster to operate freely, which included meetings with those players’ agents. His first major move as general manager of Chicago came less than two weeks after returning from Indianapolis, when he traded forward Khalil Mak to the Los Angeles Chargers for two draft picks.

Until the free agency dust settles, it’s premature to predict whether the Poles will walk away with a trading partner for the No. 1 overall pick. Lamar Jackson, if they become available, may take a closer look at the exchange for a better choice.

“I don’t think there is much talk about the draft strategy. [at the combine]”, Mueller said. “You collect information about individual players who are in the draft pool, and you spend every minute outside of this collection of information from agents who are free agents.”

What is most likely to come directly from the combine is player-to-player deals. Days after the mill closed in 2010, Tannenbaum acquired defenseman Antonio Cromarty from the San Diego Chargers in exchange. Often when teams want to trade a player, contract guarantees, which often kick in at the start of the league’s new year in March, evoke a sense of urgency.

The Fields trade idea has sparked a lot of outside discussion in the past few months. This discussion will likely spawn rumors that pervade the halls of the JW Marriott and the Indianapolis Convention Center, and the Poles are in a good position to either fuel these speculations, quell them, or send messages through the media to create more leverage for the bears. surrounding the main choice. .

“This period of time could be used by GM as a tool to send messages or nose shots,” Mueller said of the combine. “But the real talk, actually meat and potatoes, has probably already happened, and it will end after.”

Failing to find a trading partner for a first pick in 2006, Casserly ended up picking defenseman Mario Williams first overall, while Busch conceded to the No. 2 New Orleans Saints. Tannenbaum and the Jets remained at No. 4 and picked an offensive tackle D ‘Brickshaw Ferguson.

Powles could be in a similar position if the offers he makes for the No. 1 pick don’t go along with what he thinks is right. And keeping the best pick means the Bears will have the entire draft board at their disposal and will be able to pick one of the best players in the draft, like Alabama offensive player Will Anderson or Georgia guard Jalen Carter, to fix a defense that ranks. in the top five in 2022.

Either way, the Pole won’t have much time to sort out the possibilities until he returns from the Indianapolis marathon.

“This is a crazy multitasking exercise for every general manager,” Mueller said. “You’re juggling free agents, you’re juggling deals in your head, you’re juggling appointments with agents, you’re also trying to get as much information as possible about these individual players in the draft because that’s why you’re here. .”


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