All eyes on Ravens-Flacco deal
It was a busy second day in Indianapolis, where numerous scouts, agents, and front office personnel spoke off the record on Thursdsay night (and well into Friday morning) and numerous coaches and GMs addressed the media Friday afternoon. Here are my 10 takeaways from Day 2 at the Combine.
1. Everyone’s waiting to see what the Ravens do with Joe Flacco.
“The Ravens are the team the 31 others are watching right now," an agent told me on Friday. "Their first move — whether it’s Joe Flacco, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, whoever — will set all of the other dominoes in motion. Once one of those moves are made, everyone will react. They’re the team to watch.”
An AFC team’s front office executive agreed that the defending champions “certainly have all eyes around the league on them” this spring.
The big talk heading into this week centered around the meetings Joe Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, would be having with the Ravens' front office. As of Friday night, there was no news on that front.
Hadley Engelhard, unrestricted free agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe's agent, told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun: “They're focusing on the Flacco issue. The next focal point is Dannell.”
"I think Dannell has proven himself to be one of the elite young linebackers in the NFL," Engelhard said. "His best football is in front of him. Hopefully there's a home for him in Baltimore. If not, I'm sure plenty of other teams will be happy to have him on their roster."
Engelhard, Ellerbe and the rest of the NFL world anxiously wait on what Baltimore does with Flacco.
2. It looks like Alex Smith will be back in San Francisco next season.
General manager Trent Baalke opened the door to the possibility of Alex Smith being back in San Francisco in 2013 on Thursday afternoon. After speaking with various sources on Friday, including 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, I believe he’ll be back in San Francisco backing up Colin Kaepernick in 2013.
Harbaugh said it was “unlikely” the team would be releasing Smith. “We think we’ve got the best quarterback situation” in the league, adding after a pause: “We feel strongly about that.”
Why keep Smith, a backup due $8.5 million next season? Due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, starter Colin Kaepernick — the 36th overall pick in 2013 — can’t renegotiate his rookie contract. Combined, the two will make less than $10 million next season.
In a league where quarterbacks are in high demand, the 49ers have no real incentive to release Smith. As for a trade, the 49ers already have a league-high 14 draft picks this year and a roster loaded with young talent.
As one source told me, “They have two starting quarterbacks that they’re paying — combined — less than most teams’ one mediocre starter.”
Back at the Super Bowl, it seemed like a near certainty that Smith would be playing elsewhere next year. A month later? Everyone I’m talking to is singing a different tune.
Then again, this is Combine week, when everyone’s a poker player. And in Alex Smith’s case, in an offseason with a lack of great quarterback talent in the free agency market or the 2013 Draft, he could be the biggest chip at the table.
3. Matt Barkley believes he’s the best quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Unable to throw this week due to a separated shoulder injury he sustained during the 2012 college football season, USC quarterback Matt Barkley showed up to Indianapolis without the ability to wow teams with his physical skills.
He’s confident in both his arm strength and his NFL future. Barkley told me he’s the top quarterback in this draft, adding a “sir,” at the end, for good measure.
When pressed on the widespread assumption that he didn’t possess an NFL-caliber arm, Barkley said, “I would disagree,” and said he made every type of NFL throw during his time at USC.
“I plan to start right away,” he continued. “My goal is to be playing in September.
“Come to my Pro Day, I’ll be ready to go. I won’t miss a beat. I don’t think I’ll be playing catch-up throughout the process."
Confident he can run whatever offense he’s asked to, Barkley said he views himself as a traditional dropback quarterback. Asked about playing for a cold weather city, Barkley said, “I love this cold weather in Indy. I’ve played in cold weather. It doesn’t faze me.”
4. E.J. Manuel and Chip Kelly have a bit of history.
Back when Manuel was a high school star in Virginia, he was heavily recruited by an Oregon coach named … Chip Kelly. Kelly mentioned on Thursday that Manuel as a player he would have liked to have coached. On Friday, Manuel recounted the recruiting process with Kelly.
“Coach Kelly is a great coach and a great person off of the field," Manuel said. "Obviously, I went to Florida State to play for coach [Jimbo] Fisher. One of the big deterrents from Oregon was that it was on the other side of the country. Maybe if I had been from California, I may have looked at those guys a little bit harder. I definitely love the kind of offense he has. I watched their games. I saw the success they had. I’m happy he is at Philadelphia now.”
Manuel met with the Eagles at the Senior Bowl, but of the nine teams he met with in Indianapolis on Thursday, Philadelphia was not one of them.
The Eagles hold the fourth overall pick in April’s Draft. Though they currently have four quarterbacks — Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Trent Edwards and Dennis Dixon — on the roster, the thought of Manuel running Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia is not an absurd one.
There’s history between the two men. Though Kelly didn’t exactly call Manuel “the one that got away” on Thursday, there’s certainly something to not landing a hot recruit and then getting a second chance.
5. Sixty-six-year-old New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin goes to the gym every morning at 5:15. Oh, and he’s not retiring anytime soon.
Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas made news earlier this week when he said he thought Tom Coughlin could be done coaching after the 2013 season. With his contract up at the end of 2014, there’s reason to think we could be looking at the end of the road for Coughlin and the Giants in the near future.
Not so fast.
Coughlin laughed off Thomas’ comments, insisting that he hasn’t even considered stepping away from the game. The oldest head coach in the league, then, noted that he still gets up and still goes to the gym every morning at 5:15 a.m.
“You know what, I’m a football coach,” Coughlin said. “And I don’t think the way a lot of people think. And certainly I don’t think about ‘Here’s the next phase of it.’ We kid around. My wife said, ‘You’d coach for the next six years.’ And I said, 'Well, I’m questioning your motive on that one.’
“If I’m in good health, if Judy’s in good health … You know, I don’t see the number. You’re asking me areas that … I don’t know if they’re sensitive or what but I haven’t spent a lot of time. You guys have spent more time thinking about it than I have. I’ve got goals. I’ve got things I want to get done. I’ve got a foundation. I’ve got a family. I’ve got all these things that I would still very much like to accomplish and be a part of this great New York Giant organization.”
Coughlin then added, “One at a time. Next year.”
6. It appears we’ve seen the last of Michael Turner in a Falcons uniform.
The Falcons' 31-year-old running back is set to make $6.9 million next year, and from the buzz in Indianapolis, could be on the street in the coming days.
"This time of the year, there's tough decisions that have to be made," Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said on Friday. "We're recalibrating our roster as we speak in terms of going through that process. Michael's under contract right now, and we'll continue to go through the process in terms of how we're going to recalibrate it. Myself, [owner] Mr. [Arthur] Blank and [general manager] Thomas [Dimitroff] have had numerous discussions.”
Smith’s coy response comes in light of numerous rumors saying Turner’s days in Atlanta are done.
"There's a cause and effect to every decision that you make at this time of the year," he said. "You're dealing with the salary cap, and those decisions will work themselves out the next couple weeks."
Yes, we shall see.
7. Tavon Austin could be the next Victor Cruz.
Which slot receiver comparison works best for you? Randall Cobb? Percy Harvin? Wes Welker? Pick one. I’ve heard them all this week. Tavon Austin, the diminutive 5-foot-8 receiver out of West Virginia, took to the podium Thursday and stole the show.
Cocky? Perhaps. But I liked his bravado.
Asked if he was the fastest player in this draft, Austin said: “If we all lined up and raced I think I’d come out on top, but I’m not really a 40 type of guy. I’m a game type of guy. A lot of teams are looking for the type of player who can do multiple things on the field, and I think I can be that guy."
He then went one step further.
“I think I’m the all-around best player in the draft.”
Tavon Austin, ladies and gentlemen.
8. Chance Warmack is a beast. And in two months, he’ll be a very highly paid beast.
Alabama guard Chance Warmack is by far the most buzzed about prospect. After weighing in at 6-foot-2, 317 pounds on Thursday, Warmack took to the podium on Friday. He opened with a joke "First and foremost I want to give it up to God for making me 6'2". I appreciate that."
His game doesn’t generate any laughs. One NFC team source told me Warmack could go as high as the top five in April’s draft. The last guards to be drafted in the top five of an NFL Draft were Leonard Davis (No. 2 overall, 2001) and Robert Gallery (No. 2 overall, 2004), but both players were selected as offensive tackles out of college.
Warmack is a guard. And he’s the real deal.
How good is he? When asked by a reporter for his thoughts on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Alabama teammate D.J. Fluker said, “He had to go against Chance Warmack, so we didn't see him too much."
9. Speaking of Te’o …
John Elway and the Broncos are meeting with Te’o this weekend.
Elway seemed intrigued in the Heisman Trophy runner-up on Friday.
“I just want to talk to him," Elway said. "I don't get caught up in — having been in that role — I don't get caught up in everything swirling around him. I'm looking forward to sitting down and talk to him. He's a very good football player and he's going to have a successful career in the NFL."
10. Make no mistake, Tony Romo’s the man in Dallas.
It’s been an offseason of great turnover in Big D, but two things remains constant from the last three years — Jason Garrett will be the head coach and Tony Romo will be the quarterback.
"We believe very strongly in Tony Romo as our QB,” Garrett said with authority on Friday. Garrett proceeded to praise Dez Bryant, insisting that he has "simply matured" and that led to his boost in production down the stretch in 2012.
A confident Jason Garrett, a trusted Tony Romo, a matured Dez Bryant and the Tampa 2 — we’re just seven months away from Opening weekend, Cowboys fans.