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Debrief: NFL Scouting Combine winners & losers, league edition

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two days before Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead agreed to send defensive end Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins, Snead noted the changing dynamics during this pre-free agency period that cranks up at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"What's different than in years past is the appetite for being more aggressive with trades," Snead said.

The Rams are leading the way, dealing Quinn exactly one week after acquiring cornerback Marcus Peters in a blockbuster. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Rams will pick up a mid-round pick in the trade and the teams will also swap late-round picks.

It could not have been an easy decision for Snead, who signed Quinn to a market-setting extension back in 2014, when Quinn was 24 years old and coming off one of the great pass rush seasons of this decade. Quinn hasn't been the same player since because of back injuries, and even a healthy campaign in 2017 was uneven. The Dolphins will pay him more than $11 million in 2018, according to Over the Cap, adding to an already expensive defensive line.

The move opens up cap space for the Rams to bring back safety Lamarcus Joyner or wide receiver Sammy Watkins, with the March 6 deadline to use the franchise tag looming. (NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that the team is more likely to use the tag on Joyner, whom coach Sean McVay called a "huge priority" to bring back.)

In the NFL of 2014, Quinn might have just wound up getting cut. But with more cap flexibility league-wide and virtually no promising pass-rush options on the market, the Dolphins made the kind of move they often make in free agency.

Now, let's take a final look at the winners and losers -- from a league perspective -- during the week in Indianapolis.

Moving up

Eli Manning and Davis Webb, New York Giants quarterbacks: New head coach Pat Shurmur said that Manning has "years left" as a starter. General manager Dave Gettleman has telegraphed his support for Manning as the team's QB since returning to the organization.

That support is not overly surprising, even if it's inadvisable following two underwhelming seasons from Manning. Shurmur's public praise of second-year pro Davis Webb this week was more eye-opening. Shurmur said he liked Webb "a great deal" coming out of college and watching practice tape of the third-round pick only reinforced that assessment.

The Giants have a rare opportunity to pluck a franchise quarterback 14 years after drafting Eli Manning, but they might convince themselves they're already set at the position. That would allow the Giants to draft defensive end Bradley Chubb, guard Quenton Nelson or running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick. All three players would fit with Gettleman's love of establishing a tough football team. The GM isn't concerned with old tropes about which positions should go high in the draft.

"The bottom line is: Is the guy a football player?" Gettleman said. "This whole myth of devaluing running backs -- I find it kind of comical. At the end of the day, if he's a great player, he's a great player. It doesn't matter what position he is."

Imagine what Manning is thinking. He could be supported by a dynamic, career-extending running back ... or he could be challenged by a ballyhooed, career-threatening rookie quarterback. (Eli doesn't want to be a professional mentor.) The Giants' professed love for Manning points to drafting an immediate-impact player like Barkley. As Broncos VP John Elway put it this week, life's too short to rebuild in the NFL.

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders receiver: Of all the items to come out of coach Jon Gruden's ebullient press conference this week, I found one to be the most credible. Cooper is set to be the focal point of the team's offense. My colleague Chris Wesseling wisely compared Gruden's words to how Rams coach Sean McVay talked up running back Todd Gurley a year ago, a new coach ready to lean on a young cornerstone who had yet to truly turn the corner.

(Other Gruden comments could prove less meaningful. He talked up Marshawn Lynch and Michael Crabtree a day before the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that both players could still get cut if they don't rework their contracts.)

The new crop of coaches and general managers: The return of Gruden added some much-needed verve to the head-coaching ranks. Lions coach Matt Patricia was a revelation at the microphone, so clearly comfortable in his skin. Titans coach Mike Vrabel is another newbie from the same coaching tree who is far from a Bill Belichick clone.

Not every new coach was full of charisma, as my friend Dan Hanzus pointed out (ahem, Pat Shurmur and Steve Wilks), but there was entertainment at the general manager level, too. Gettleman and Browns GM John Dorsey are straight-shooting characters from another time. Brian Gutekunst offers a fresh voice in Green Bay. The combine has a way of jolting reporters and fans into the next season because so many leadership structures have been rebuilt.

Sam Bradford, quarterback for hire: Old evaluations die hard. The former No. 1 overall pick, who put up the best stretch of his career in Minnesota before knee problems struck last season, is in line to get a chance to start at quarterback again. It could be in Minnesota or Arizona or possibly even Denver. But the buzz around Indianapolis was that teams sounded ready to give Bradford another chance, as long as injury protections are built into his contract.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals running back:Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin made it clear that Mixon's uneven rookie campaign won't lead to fewer carries in Year 2. If anything, the organization is more committed to Mixon as the team's bell-cow runner, with Giovani Bernard in a supporting role.

Andrew Luck optimism:Colts general manager Chris Ballard has remained measured publicly throughout Luck's recovery, never telegraphing the public confidence that owner Jim Irsay did last season that Luck would definitely get back on the field. That's why Ballard's statement this week that he had "no doubt" Luck will be ready to go this season was notable. The Indianapolis Star believes Ballard's words were telling, and I tend to agree.

Moving down

Progressive thinking: In the same year that two of the most forward-thinking NFL organizations battled in the Super Bowl, Jon Gruden happily gave voice to the silent majority of teams in the NFL.

"Are you talking about the analytics, the GPS, all the modern technology? Man, I'm trying to throw the game back to 1998," Gruden said. "There's a stack of analytic data or day-ta, however you want to say that word, people don't even know how to read it. It's one thing to have the data -- or day-ta -- it's another thing to know how to read the damn thing. So, I'm not going to rely on GPSs and all the modern technology. I will certainly have some people that are professional that can help me from that regard. But I still think doing things the old-fashioned way is a good way."

Failing to take advantage of every avenue toward improvement is short-sighted, but it's not like Gruden is on an island with this opinion. It fits right in with Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and plenty of teams' retrograde views.

"If analytics can help a little bit and confirm what I see and feel about a player, I'm OK with that. But I'm old-school. It's hard for me to be a millennial," McKenzie said this week, via the San Jose Mercury News.

Using analytics to confirm what you already feel about a player is like hiring a golf pro to tell you what a great swing you have. While some of the league embraces information, other outfits want to turn back the clock.

That's also true of the teams that want to build primarily around defense and running after a Super Bowl that had more yards than any single game in NFL history. Even the best defenses got torched when it counted in the playoffs.

"We want to be productive, No. 1, in running the football," new Cardinals coach Steve Wilks told reporters. "This is a pass-happy league. It's my philosophy as a head coach -- I believe in establishing the run. And that's what we're going to do."

The running game is clearly vital to a dynamic offense, but "establishing it" as the starting point for an offense runs counter to how teams are creatively moving the ball in 2018. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer spoke passionately about not wanting to sacrifice any of his team's defensive excellence after a playoff run where Minnesota gave up 62 points in two games, including a fourth-quarter collapse against the Saints.

Aqib Talib and C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos veterans (for now): Both key members of the team's Super Bowl championship appear to be on the way out after Broncos executive John Elway refused to address their status this week. That came in stark contrast to Elway promising that struggling tackle Menelik Watson would be back and Elway talking up third-year quarterback Paxton Lynch. It also became clear that defensive end Derek Wolfe would be back, along with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Denver wants to clear cap space for a potential run at Kirk Cousins, with Talib and Anderson being two likely cap victims.

Arizona Cardinals fans with a Tyrann Mathieu jersey: While the Rams sound ready to ensure Lamarcus Joyner doesn't hit the open market, it sure sounds like Honey Badger could be a last-minute surprise addition to free agency.

WWE fans: They will have to wait for Gronk to fulfill his destiny as Royal Rumble champion. Rob Gronkowski's apparent disillusionment with The Patriot Way, according to NBC Sports Boston's Tom Curran, remains a story to watch throughout this offseason.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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