A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Struggles against top competition: The Jets' anticipated pursuit of Kirk Cousins is a hot-button issue among fans in New York. Should they shell out $30 million a year for the prospective free agent or try to find their quarterback in the draft? Both sides can make compelling arguments, but here's a factoid that might provide some clarity for those on the fence:
During his time with the Washington Redskins, Cousins' starting record against winning teams is 4-19 (based on their opponents' final record).
Cousins has cleaned up against losing teams (19-9-1) and has fared OK against .500 clubs (3-2), resulting in an overall record of 26-30-1 in the regular season. He is 0-1 in the playoffs.
The numbers are alarming, to say the least. Of his four victories against winning opponents, only one came in the division -- New York Giants, 2016. All told, he's 1-7 against winning teams in the NFC East.
The man he could replace, Josh McCown, went 3-4 last season versus winning teams -- and he made $18 million less than Cousins.
Cousins supporters can cite excuses for his inability to beat quality opponents -- injuries to his supporting cast, personnel changes, etc. -- but 4-19 is 4-19. His individual statistics jump off the page (three straight 4,000-yard seasons), but those are secondary. A quarterback's job is to win.
The Jets believe Cousins can solve their long-term issue at quarterback and, as I reported last week, they're prepared to be aggressive in the bidding. Cousins would be an upgrade, but he isn't a savior. If the Jets see him that way, they're letting desperation cloud their judgment.
2. We're off to Indy: The NFL scouting combine begins Tuesday in Indianapolis. In addition to evaluating college prospects, teams use the time to meet with agents to lay the groundwork for deals with their own free agents.
The Jets' free agents include McCown, cornerback Morris Claiborne, linebacker Demario Davis and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. McCown and Cousins are represented by the same agent, Mike McCartney. By rule, they're not allowed to discuss Cousins because he's still under contract to the Redskins, but those type of "unofficial" conversations (wink, wink) happen all the time at the combine.
By the end of the week, the Jets should know where they stand with their own free agents and others such as Cousins.
3. Arms race: As for the college kids, the big day is Saturday. That's when the quarterbacks are on the field. The spotlight will be on the big four -- Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen. Right now, there's no consensus No. 1.
"It’s a fluid situation," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "Nobody is etched in stone, especially when you have the strong competition with the quarterbacks at the top. Not all of them are perfect. They all have some red flags."
What each quarterback needs to demonstrate to talent evaluators:
Allen: Accuracy in the throwing drills. His 56-percent completion rate at Wyoming is sticking to him like a scarlet number.
Darnold: This may seem silly, but scouts are curious to get an official hand size. He lost nine fumbles in 2017, prompting some to wonder if he has small hands.
Mayfield: Arm strength. At 6-feet, can he generate enough power to measure up against the classic pocket passers? The team interviews also will be important for Mayfield, who must quell concerns about his maturity.
Rosen: The team interviews will be critical. Rosen must "show that he’s a great leader, that he’s passionate and loves he game of football, that he’ll be the first one in, last one out," Kiper said. "We know he’s got great intelligence. We know he’s a great pure passer. We know all that, but does he have that extra intangible to be the great quarterback he's capable of being?"
4. Hail to the Hit Man: The retirement announcement was so David Harris -- a one-sentence statement, released via his agent's Twitter account on a late Friday afternoon. He never drew attention to himself during his playing career, and he wasn't about to change at the end.
Harris was a throwback player with no ego. He was all about the team and had no desire to get his name in the headlines or his face on TV. I covered his entire career with the Jets from 2007 to 2016, and this is what I'll remember most:
His durability. After missing the final five games of the 2008 season due to a groin tear, Harris played in 121 straight before missing a game in 2016 with a hamstring injury. He was an every-down player at one of the most violent positions on the field, middle linebacker. From 2009 to 2016, he played more snaps than any linebacker in the NFL -- 7,623, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The other thing I'll remember is how much his teammates respected him. It was particularly evident at his charity golf event each spring in New Jersey. It drew so many players that it became an unofficial team holiday, with coach Todd Bowles giving the players a day off from offseason drills so everyone could attend.
One year, reporters at the event had trouble getting players to stop for interviews. Word got to Harris, who quietly encouraged teammates to speak to the reporters. Minutes later, there was line of players, waiting to be interviewed.
Our last conversion occurred in the New England Patriots' locker room, of all places, during their playoff run last month. He didn't want to discuss his future plans even though it was obvious, at least to me, that retirement beckoned. Asked how he'd like to be remembered by fans, Harris said simply: "A dependable, hard-working, steady linebacker."
A perfect description.
5. The next to go: It wouldn't surprise anyone if former center Nick Mangold follows Harris into retirement before the start of the season. Mangold, 34, hasn't played a game in nearly 15 months.
6. Minkah Island? One option for the Jets with the sixth pick is Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, a safety/cornerback tweener. The Jets don't need a safety, but they need a shutdown corner. Tweeners are risky, especially when you're picking that high. Kiper, for one, has no doubt that Fitzpatrick can play corner.
"He’s a safety if you need him to be. He’s a corner if you need him there," he said. "With the Jets, obviously with (Marcus) Maye and (Jamal) Adams, he’d be a corner. He would definitely be a corner with them. … He does have the skill level. You’re talking about an instinctive player, a true playmaker that already proved he can play corner at Alabama early in his carer."
7. Locals at combine: New Jersey will be well-represented at the combine. Eleven players attended high school in the Garden State, including two of the top prospects -- Fitzpatrick (St. Peter's Prep) and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson (Red Bank Catholic).
8. The last word: Penn State star Saquon Barkley, who spent part of his childhood in the Bronx, told the Sporting News he rooted for the Jets as a kid. Why? "Curtis Martin, I’m a Jets fan growing up, I’m still a Jets fan," he said. "Come draft day, all that goes out the window. It would be great for me to be able to play for the team I grew up liking; obviously New York is close to home and would be a great position for me.”