Multiple reports said the Bengals were shopping their 2017 first-round pick. However, the Bengals denied the report on Wednesday during Tobin's news conference at the NFL combine.
"We have had no discussions internally or externally on John Ross, so I don't know where that came from," Tobin said. "That's out of the ready-fire-aim school of journalism, I guess. But it's fake news maybe is the best way to put that. We have had no discussions, and that's not in our plans."
A source said the Bengals told Ross' camp the same thing: He's not on the trading block. Tobin said their intention would never be to surprise a player with that information.
"I don't do much damage control. If I'm asked about it, I will respond with honesty," Tobin said. "Again, I don't know where that came from. It can come from a hundred different people, but what qualifies as news these days is sometimes just made-up fairy tales, so that certainly doesn't qualify as news, in my opinion."
He added: "I think the player a lot of times will reach out to you, or a player's agent, if they are not the ones that put it out -- I don't know. But we try to be open and honest with our players, and if there is a chance we are going to be trying to move somebody, we try to give a heads-up to the guy so he's not blindsided."
A fresh start would make sense for Ross given the rocky start to his career. All of the fanfare from his record-setting 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the combine that year quickly evaporated after he got to Cincinnati.
His debut was delayed due to offseason surgery and he was buried at the bottom of the depth chart before the regular season even started. He played only five snaps in his Week 2 debut against the Texans and was quickly benched after he fumbled on his only carry. A knee injury suffered in that game caused him to miss even more time, and he was a healthy scratch more often than not. Issues with his shoulder landed him on IR on Dec. 4.
Ross' second season wasn't exactly smooth either. He missed several games with a groin injury and was criticized for appearing to quit on a play that ended in an interception. He had also been called out the year before by then-Bengals coach Marvin Lewis for quitting on a route when the ball was coming his way. In two seasons, Ross has only 21 receptions.
But trading him now would be a surprising move. Ross hasn't lived up to the expectations of being a first-round pick, but the potential is there. Ross was tied for the team lead with seven receiving touchdowns last season despite missing three games. No other player on the team has that kind of speed, and beyond A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, the receivers haven't shown much potential. If tight end Tyler Eifert doesn't re-sign, Andy Dalton's receiving threats will be limited.
The Bengals would have to wait until after June 1 to trade Ross to save $2 million against the salary cap. Otherwise, they would lose $600,000 when the prorated portion of his signing bonus accelerated into their salary cap after the trade. Additionally, a brand-new coaching staff is about as good of a fresh start as Ross could get in Cincinnati.
"We'll have a lot of players that are looking to find their fit and their niche. It won't just be John. John will be one of many that are looking to carve out the niche that they want to carve out for their careers," Tobin said. "John is a prideful guy. He works at the game. It means something to him. We're certainly not giving up on him in any way. But it will be a product of how he fits in with what we do, and it will be a coaching decision based on his performance in how much he plays and how big of a factor he is for us."
It's possible the Bengals are simply keeping their options to themselves, but giving up on Ross now would be pretty head-scratching considering he's just starting to show his potential.
"We're not going to give up on him. There are a lot of flashes almost on a daily basis in practice," Tobin said. "He's got to stay healthy and he's got to keep building on his good plays. Confidence will be a huge part, and we'll have a new offensive scheme and we'll see how he transitions, but every receiver is going to have a transition. Every receiver is going to have a learning curve, but no, there's nobody giving up on him yet."