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Debrief: Cardinals, Giants face similar dilemmas at quarterback

INDIANAPOLIS — Kliff Kingsbury took the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for the first time Wednesday, the first two buttons of his Henley shirt unfastened, and threw his unmitigated support behind Josh Rosen. Minutes later, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was far more ambivalent about Rosen’s status as the team’s starting quarterback.

“Yeah, he is, right now, for sure,” Keim said about the second-year pro remaining in the job moving forward.

A similar dichotomy between coach and GM was on display a few podiums away. Giants coach Pat Shurmur appeared to commit to Eli Manning as the team’s starter in 2019 by saying “he’s back,” only for general manager Dave Gettleman to caution later Wednesday morning that “you don’t know” what’s going to happen, leaving the door open for New York to go after a veteran quarterback to start.

So what accounts for the diverging comments?

In both cases, the relationships between the head coach and the quarterback has to be a factor. Kingsbury and Shurmur want their quarterbacks to know they believe in them, even if the coaches don’t have total control regarding each player’s future. Keim, meanwhile, doesn’t have to be quite as concerned with how Rosen feels about him.

Keim was likely calculated in his cautious embrace for a few reasons. Teams are early in the process of evaluating college quarterback prospects Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins, so the Cardinals‘ thinking still has time to evolve when it comes to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. More likely, I suspect that Keim wants other NFL teams to believe he could draft Murray or Haskins with the top pick in order to raise the trade value of the pick. (Think about how the 49ers inspired the Bears to trade up for Mitchell Trubisky, from the No. 3 overall spot to No. 2, two years ago.) At a time of year when decision makers don’t want to show their cards, it doesn’t help Keim to reveal whether he will or won’t consider replacing Rosen.

The Giants‘ situation is even more fascinating. All signs point to the team pairing Manning with a rookie quarterback, much like former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi did when he drafted Manning, then signed Kurt Warner to play in front of him in 2004.

“What Ernie did for the Giants,” Gettleman said, “it would be a dream for me to do the same thing.”

The more Gettleman spoke, the more obvious it became that he believes the concerns about Manning are overblown. He accused the media of painting itself into a corner.

“If you tell a lie long enough, you believe it. The narrative has been so negative, when you take that position, you have trouble getting off that spot,” he said.

While the same criticism about getting off the spot could be said about Manning, it appears that Gettleman ideally wants to pair the veteran with a successor. Gettleman said he hopes to someday watch a hand-picked quarterback run the Giants for years from the safety of retirement in Cape Cod. His comments make it safe for the Nick Foles-to-New York conspiracy theorists to put away their tinfoil hats and instead examine how much it might cost the Giants, who currently own the No. 6 overall pick, to move up in the draft, similar to how Accorsi traded No. 4 overall pick Philip Rivers to the Chargers for Manning, the No. 1 overall pick, in 2004. What is said publicly at the combine isn’t always what it seems, but Gettleman’s repeated mention of the Chiefs‘ successful “model” of pairing veteran Alex Smith with rookie Patrick Mahomes for 2017 — a move that involved its own aggressive draft trade — pointed Giants fans in the direction the team hopes to go.

“No guts, no glory,” Gettleman said.

Here’s what else made news Wednesday at the combine:

1) Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s announcement that the team would not place the franchise tag on Nick Foles, thus allowing him to test free agency, was ultimately the only move the team could make. After Foles paid the Eagles $2 million to “buy back” his freedom by voiding his contract, the Eagles needed a trade market for Foles to develop quickly if they were to have any chance to deal him. That didn’t happen, and the team couldn’t risk keeping his $25 million franchise tag number on the books for even a day. There’s no need to give the Eagles too much credit for doing “the right thing” by Foles, because the entire process was just about business. The Eagles have as many moving parts to their roster and tricky salary cap issues as any team in the league, and they couldn’t operate without more clarity on Foles’ situation. Perhaps Roseman reads

The larger question with Foles is whether any team other than Jacksonville makes a strong bid for him. If the Giants are truly out of the mix, the only other teams that make realistic sense are the Redskins and the Dolphins.

2) While Roseman wouldn’t say anything definitive, it sure sounds like the team will work out a way to retain tackle Jason Peters. It’s possible they will restructure his contract.

“He’s not a normal human being,” Roseman said of Peters. “He’s a freak. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer as a player, as a person. So normal rules don’t apply when it comes to Jason.”

3) Gettleman’s comments about potentially tagging safety Landon Collins were also notable. It’s no lock that the team will do so, at least in part because Collins doesn’t want the tag.

“So let’s go to the conversation of eliminating distractions,” Gettleman said. “You tag a guy. He’s mad. And that’s all you guys are going to write about. For six months, it’s what it’s going to be. So I have to say to myself, ‘Is it worth it?’  “

4) Steelers GM Kevin Colbert mostly repeated his previous talking points when it comes to the potential of trading away receiver Antonio Brown, stressing that he can envision a path to welcoming Brown back to the field if they can’t find appropriate value in a deal. When pressed whether that was believable, Colbert blanched:

“People can or cannot believe us, but that is our stance. We need significant compensation for this to happen,” he said.

5) Dolphins GM Chris Grier indicated that trade talk surrounding cornerback Xavien Howard was overblown. Grier was definitive in saying he expected Howard to be on the roster in 2019. Grier also expressed strong interest in offering right tackle Ja’Wuan James a competitive contract, yet sounded less optimistic about potentially bringing franchise legend Cameron Wake back. Both Grier and coach Brian Flores said the team still had time to make a decision on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It’s possible the team could seek a trade partner rather than release him.

6) The Ravens were fairly clear about their personnel priorities in a pair of press conferences from coach John Harbaugh and GM Eric DeCosta. The team is doing everything possible to retain linebacker C.J. Mosley, with the franchise tag being a realistic possibility. Harbaugh said veteran guard Marshal Yanda will be back and is not expected to retire. Gus Edwards is the team’s No. 1 running back, but Baltimore hopes to find competition for him. DeCosta revealed that veteran cornerback Brandon Carr would be back, while the futures of cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Eric Weddle were less certain. It’s sounding likely that both of those veterans will be gone if they don’t accept pay cuts, and DeCosta admitted people should “expect more moves.”

7) Bucs coach Bruce Arians was very optimistic about keeping receiver DeSean Jackson — who has expressed a desire to leave but is under contract for 2019 — on the team, saying he had a good conversation with him and is “looking forward” to working with him. Barring an attractive trade offer, I’d expect Jackson to remain with the Bucs, because it’s clear Tampa isn’t going to cut him. Arians also mentioned the team was “desperate” to retain free-agent linebacker Kwon Alexander. Alexander’s status coming off a torn ACL should make it easier to realize that hope.

8) While new Raiders GM Mike Mayock said he believes Derek Carr is a “franchise quarterback,” there remains some question about which franchise Carr will be playing for in 2019. Mayock admitted that the team is still “trying to figure out” Kyler Murray‘s value, which is not something you’d hear from a team with a locked and loaded starting quarterback.

“We have more needs than I can even tell you,” Mayock said about the Raiders roster.

9) New Bengals coach Zac Taylor downplayed any chance of bringing in competition for Andy Dalton at QB, at least in the short term, saying that Dalton had a “bright future” in Taylor’s offense. Taylor also indicated the team will retain cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who is set to count for $10.95 million against the cap, according to Over The Cap.

Meanwhile, Bengals decision maker Duke Tobin called talk of the team shopping wide receiver John Ross “fake news,” and said Cincinnati had no interest in moving the 2017 first-round pick.

10) Packers GM Brian Gutekunst indicated that running back Aaron Jones‘ conditioning would need to improve if he wants to become a true feature back.

11) 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed the team will retain defensive lineman Arik Armstead via the fifth-year option of his rookie contract.

12) Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said that the team won’t cut defensive end Randy Gregory as he deals with his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and the terms of his conditional reinstatement. Garrett also intimated that veteran linebacker Sean Lee, who was largely supplanted by rookie Leighton Vander Esch in 2018, is part of the team’s future plans. I’d expect news of a pay cut to emerge in the coming weeks.

Garrett was less verbose when discussing his contract entering the final year of his deal, saying he doesn’t think about it. Cowboys VP Stephen Jones made it clear this week that Garrett needs to take the “next step” to remain the team’s coach.

13) Broncos coach Vic Fangio indicated wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders would have a “major role” for the team despite coming off a torn Achilles tendon.

GM John Elway later confirmed that the team will exercise the options for 2019 on Sanders and defensive end Derek Wolfe, calling them “good football players.”

14) Cardinals GM Steve Keim didn’t try to dampen the hype that his hand-picked coach, Kliff Kingsbury, would run an incredibly creative offense.

“I think Kliff’s schematical approach is going to be a little different than probably most that they’ve seen in the NFL,” Keim said.

15) Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff was “very confident” that defensive lineman Grady Jarrett will remain with the Falcons. That’s an indication the team will use the franchise tag on him if a long-term deal can’t be worked out. Coach Dan Quinn also confirmed that Vic Beasley will remain on the team despite his huge salary ($12.8 million against the cap in 2019, according to Over The Cap), with Quinn wanting to take a more hands-on approach to Beasley this season.

16) In similar news, Seahawks GM John Schneider confirmed he expects defensive end Frank Clark to be a Seahawk in 2019. The franchise tag is the most likely route.

That’s it from Day 1 of the head coach and general manager availabilities in Indianapolis. Check back Thursday to see how all of Wednesday’s news is contradicted.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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