The Debrief  

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Debrief: Vikings' quarterback conundrum the talk of Indianapolis

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Gregg Rosenthal is writing daily Debriefs during the week of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. This edition explores the Vikings' biggest question mark, as well as other Thursday developments in Indy.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The biggest question bouncing off the walls in drinking holes around Lucas Oil Stadium this week concerns what the Vikings will do at quarterback.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport guessed that Kirk Cousins would land in Minnesota during a stopover on the Around The NFL Podcast, but Rapsheet said not to rule out the Cardinals as a dark-horse option. The Jets might have the most guaranteed money to offer, while Broncos executive John Elway displayed a mix of confidence and anxiety that he could land his man to move past a nightmarish 2017.

"Life is too short to rebuild in the NFL," Elway said.

Cousins is the safest option available to avoid doing so, and it's shaping up to be a four-team race to sign him. That leaves teams like the Broncos and Vikings making contingency plans if Cousins spurns them. One of the most surprising developments this week is the growing wisdom that Minnesota's Option B could be re-signing Sam Bradford rather than Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater.

Reading between the lines of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's comments Thursday, the organization has concerns about Bradford's health, but not his talent.

"Can Sam stay healthy? Is Teddy what he was? Is Case the guy that he was last year or two years ago?" Zimmer asked, neatly summing up the issues with all three Vikings free agents.

It wasn't the only time Thursday when Zimmer openly wondered if Keenum could sustain his level of play from 2017 or whether he would turn back into a pumpkin. When talking about Bridgewater, it sounded like Zimmer is resigned to possibly saying goodbye to a player he loves. Bridgewater's best chance to return to the Vikings could be as a backup.

"I'm hopeful for Teddy, No. 1, that he has an outstanding career," Zimmer said. "He's earned it; he's deserved it. Hopefully it's with me, but if not, I wish him the best of luck. I'll give him a hug and hope for the best for him."

Bradford, not Bridgewater, was trusted as Keenum's backup during the playoffs, despite Bradford's degenerative knee. Zimmer noted that Bradford was able to ski last week and said he believed Bradford could stay healthy, but also admitted, "Who knows?"

New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo worked briefly with Bradford in Philadelphia, and that familiarity could be why Rapoport opined Thursday on NFL Network that Bradford could be the most likely Vikings quarterback to return.

Cousins figures to be Minnesota's first choice, but the Vikings need to be prepared to chase a Super Bowl title if they can't work out that deal with our top overall free agent. Zimmer, for one, sounded cautious about extending the team too far financially for one player.

"What I don't want to do is say, OK, this is the one thing -- we're going to do this and we're going to take away from the rest of the things that have gotten us to this point," Zimmer said in relation to managing the salary cap.

There has also been speculation that the Vikings could use the transition tag on Keenum simply to retain the right to match any offers from other teams. (There is almost no downside to this plan, because they can rescind the tag at any time.) This is just one of the dizzying array of variables for Minnesota to consider, with Cousins holding much of the leverage over the entire market. Zimmer dryly joked that he will probably get fired if the Vikings choose the wrong quarterback. Like most great jokes, there was an element of truth to it.

"I know there's a lot of rumors and a lot of different things going on out there, but don't believe everything you hear -- unless it's from me," Zimmer said.

Here's what else we learned on a busy Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. (Even if it wasn't quite as busy as Wednesday.)

1) Browns general manager John Dorsey went out of his way to tell reporters and the rest of the league that Cleveland's open for business with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

"Give me a call and see what's up," Dorsey said, while throwing out the vibe of a science teacher from a 1980s comedy, trying to connect with his students. (I mean this in the best way possible. Dorsey is a lot of fun to listen to.)

2) Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday he expects defensive end Julius Peppers' decision about whether he will retire to arrive soon. It sure sounds like Peppers will retire or re-sign with Carolina, but won't hit free agency as one of the most intriguing pass rushers available in a barren market.

Rivera also said that the team is looking for big cornerbacks and a veteran wide receiver to fill out of his young group of pass catchers. The Panthers coach admitted it would be difficult to retain guard Andrew Norwell, all but ensuring that our top-rated free agent offensive lineman will hit the market.

It's a fascinating time for the Panthers with new ownership on the way and a new offensive coordinator for Cam Newton. Rivera admitted there will be "more pressure" on everyone to perform for their prospective new boss.

3) Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell "needs to get out of his own way" to succeed as a pro. Rapoport reported that Treadwell's roster spot is far from guaranteed.

4) NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that the Rams will cut or trade wideout Tavon Austin, ending one of the most regrettable second contracts in the NFL this decade. Cutting Austin will give general manager Les Snead more room to retain safety Lamarcus Joyner and wideout Sammy Watkins.

While Snead was coy about whether the team will use the franchise tag, it sure looks like the ideal option for the Rams would be to re-sign Joyner to a long-term deal while keeping Watkins on the tag. Snead admitted that the Rams were hoping for more than one year of production when they dealt for Watkins, but noted that the team could potentially get a compensatory pick back if Watkins leaves in free agency.

The Rams could wind up on the positive side of that compensatory formula because they have so many free agents and their big acquisition of the offseason, cornerback Marcus Peters, came via trade. Snead noted that teams around the league have more of an appetite for trades than in years past.

5) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he was "ready" to overhaul his coaching staff. Still a fascinating figure at age 66 in the most compelling division in football, Carroll said he wanted to be challenged by a new staff and a new mountain to climb. The coaching staff changed, but perhaps the secondary won't be blown up yet. Carroll dismissed safety Earl Thomas' desire for a new contract, saying that Thomas was supposedly retiring at this time last year. (Translation: Take what Thomas says with a grain of salt.) Cornerback Richard Sherman likely isn't going anywhere after having a second surgery on his Achilles in February.

The futures of safety Kam Chancellor, defensive end Michael Bennett and fellow pass rusher Cliff Avril remain up in the air.

6) New Chiefs general manager Brett Veach was mostly understated when meeting with the media, but one quote about quarterback Patrick Mahomes caught my eye.

"All the tools are there. He is one of the best players I have ever seen," Veach said.

So, yeah, that's probably why they traded Alex Smith.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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