It’s getting very smoky in Phoenix this week as NFL teams try to send out sometimes-conflicting signals about their intentions in the draft, which starts five weeks from tomorrow.
Among the teams throwing out the most smokescreens is Washington. A few weeks ago we had John Clayton of ESPN reporting that the Redskins would draft the Heisman Trophy winner out of Oregon if he is there at No. 5. Then yesterday Tarik El-Bashir talked to Scot McCloughan, who did nothing to knock down Clayton’s report.
"It's a definite consideration, no doubt about it," McCloughan said when asked if the Redskins would draft Mariota. "It's the most important position on the field."
McCloughan’s statement has to be viewed in the context of what else we know about him, the draft, and the Redskins’ quarterback situation.
As far as the latter topic, we have Jay Gruden’s less than ringing endorsement of Robert Griffin III as the team’s quarterback.
“He’s got the starting job right now,” Gruden said on Monday. “Hopefully he takes it and runs with it.”
Gruden’s qualifiers like “right now” and “hopefully” along with the bumpy ride the coach and quarterback had in 2014 don’t exactly convey a lot of confidence in Griffin as the long-term solution at quarterback.
But Mariota might not be the answer either. The Oregon offense is similar to the one Griffin ran at Baylor. Gruden and McCloughan may not be interested in going through the same growing pains with uncertain results.
The popular consensus is that the Redskins are circulating the Mariota talk in order to drum up some trade interest in that No. 5 pick. McCloughan left the door wide open for that possibility as well.
“If it’s a win for us, and it’s going to make us stronger, no doubt about it,” McCloughan told El-Bashir yesterday. “I’ll take any phone calls.”
McCloughan may want to trade the pick but he could have to try to find a market for it if Mariota is off of the board. Ken Whisenhunt is the head coach of the Titans, who hold the second overall pick and he gave a very strong indication that he is interested in Mariota.
“If he comes to us at No. 2, he's definitely going to be the day 1 starter,” he said. “I'm very impressed by Marcus.”
Of course, Whisenhunt’s endorsement may be a smokescreen, a signal that a team that wants to move up to draft Mariota will need to place a call to Nashville, not Ashburn.
It’s lying season in the NFL and it is best to take whatever any NFL coach or general manager says over the next five weeks with a healthy amount of skepticism. We won’t really know what a team’s intentions with its pick are until Roger Goodell steps to the microphone on April 30.