Rumors heard 'round the NFL Combine
I must say I agree with the anonymous general manager who said: “Rarely does something happen at the Combine that changes my opinion of a player. I could care less about how high a guy jumps.”
That being said, if you love the NFL, you must come here just in case something really important happens at what has evolved into a mini-league convention, complete with agents, union bosses, the commissioner and every coach and scout in the league examining its future on-field stars.
Here is what I learned at Indy:
1. The real McCoy is No. 1?
If the draft was today, the Rams would select Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy because he is the player that head coach Steve Spagnuolo likes better. Fortunately for Rams fans who want a quarterback after passing on Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez the past two Aprils, the team has seven weeks to change Spags’ mind. McCoy’s OU teammate, quarterback Sam Bradford, plans to throw and show off his surgically repaired right shoulder on March 25. A year ago, Bradford was the consensus top quarterback, ahead of Matthew Stafford, but he opted to return to play college football.
2. No Lion! Detroit wants to deal
The Lions, who pick second in the first round, have their fingers crossed that the Rams don’t pick a quarterback so they can trade down with either Cleveland or Buffalo, who apparently are in the quarterback market. The thought process is that new Browns czar Mike Holmgren won’t want to lose his favorite quarterback to Washington and new coach Mike Shanahan. The Redskins are perched at No. 4, three spots ahead of the Browns. The Lions really don’t want to spend $33 million in bonus money on a defensive tackle.
3. Bear down
This season sounds like it could be the last hurrah for everyone in Chicago, from CEO Ted Phillips to head coach Lovie Smith. This explains why Phillips, who is typically tight with a buck, will allow GM Jerry Angelo to spend in the free-agent market for once. Panthers DE Julius Peppers makes some sense. The Bears had better win or there will be a total housecleaning with another McCaskey (maybe Brian) taking charge. All the pressure is on new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who must make Jay Cutler a playoff-winning quarterback. With three new coaches named Mike on the offensive coaching staff, Martz is now going by his nickname of “Mickey.” Well, that’s what new Chicago offensive line coach Mike Tice told me.
4. Lack of speed kills
Several scouts believe that USC safety Taylor Mays is more of a weakside linebacker than a true free safety. The scouts are concerned about his closing speed while working the secondary’s center field. It is the main reason why Mays has dropped out of the top 10 on every team’s draft boards. On the flip side, everyone is going gaga over Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell, who officially ran a 4.85 40-yard dash and benched 215 pounds 34 times. He is a freak at 6-6, 314 pounds, but he wasn’t even first-team all-conference. Sure, coaches can teach a player how to block, but a guy’s playing history is more important than Campbell’s combine numbers. He reminds me of Mike Schad, a guy who also looked great in shorts that the Rams picked in 1986 with the 23rd overall pick. He busted out as a tackle.
5. What about Julius Peppers?
When the free-agency period officially begins on Friday, Peppers will be the most attractive player. But there is considerable debate on what his worth really is. Most teams believe that Peppers plays football for a living, but doesn’t really love the sport.
The general consensus is that his average yearly salary over the next 3-4 seasons will be in the $13 million range, down from his projected $20 million franchise number that Carolina would have owed him. The Bears have their sights set on Peppers, as do the Redskins and Eagles. The Lions and Bucs make some sense, if they want to spend their money. But Lions Coach Jim Schwartz really wants free-agent Kyle Vanden Bosch, a pass rusher he coached while with the Titans. I keep hearing that the Redskins would love to part with Albert Haynesworth in order to get Peppers, but who would take Fat Albert off their books?
6. Minny Mac?
If Brett Favre opts to finally retire, would the Eagles trade Donovan McNabb to old friend Brad Childress? This is a sexy story because McNabb has been a top-10 quarterback for a long time, but one also minus a championship ring. McNabb, who has one year left on his contract, basically could void any trade by demanding too much in a long-term salary. He holds all the cards. However, many believe Andy Reid won’t deal McNabb, knowing he’s the only quarterback who can keep the Eagles competitive next season considering the team’s many personnel holes.
7. Does anyone like Mike?
On the flip side, the Michael Vick trade discussions won’t include the Rams. If the Rams were really interested in Vick, they would have signed him last year when they really needed a backup to injury-prone Marc Bulger. All Vick proved last season is that he could keep his nose clean. Besides, now that he’s being totally honest and telling everyone that he didn’t work as hard as he could have with the Falcons, why does it mean that he deserves a fat new deal and a starting gig? The Eagles may be stuck with Vick until a team loses a starter in training camp.
What to do about the 30-year-old running backs? There will be three formerly productive players in that demographic on the market later this week in Brian Westbrook, LaDainian Tomlinson and Thomas Jones. Most teams are very reluctant to take a chance on runners who have a lot of miles and age on them. Westbrook’s best season was in 2007 (2,104 yards from scrimmage) and he will be 31 this year. Tomlinson may be the best runner in the decade, but in his six great seasons (2002-2007) he was only 2-2 in the playoffs.
Jones is a more interesting candidate. The former Jet rushed for a career-best 1,402 yards this past season with 14 touchdowns. His rushing total ranked third overall. Jones even had a 71-yard touchdown run. Of the runners in the over-30 club, Jones and Miami’s Ricky Williams performed at a very high level last season. He will be 32, but the Jets are saying he was slowing down at the end of the season.
The last 30-year-old back that I remember who changed teams and had a significant impact was Corey Dillon with the 2004 Patriots. With a change in scenery, Dillon ran for 1,635 yards at age 30 and won a Super Bowl. So, it can happen. Jones has been a quality performer and great locker-room guy for many years; just ask any players on the Bears and Jets. He may be a better risk than either Westbrook or L.T. Jones would be perfect for the Chargers.
9. Brad is "Bat" crazy
You hear a lot of unfavorable rumblings in the Vikings’ locker room about Coach Brad Childress, but the guy has developed a quick wit with football writers. When talking about injured linebacker E.J. Henderson’s rehabilitation work, Childress did a rendition of the old “Bat Masterson” theme song, from the late 1950s TV show starring the late Gene Barry. “… He wore a cane and derby hat, and they called him Bat, Bat Masterson.” Chilly did this because Henderson was still limping around the locker room. Now, Henderson goes by the nickname “Bat,” even though he had no idea what Childress was talking about. Speaking of the Vikings, their coaches got contract offers last weekend and they have until Wednesday to sign them or they, too, will become free agents.
10. Rivers hands off to ...
The Chargers would love to re-sign Darren Sproles if no one offers big money in free-agency. Otherwise they are definitely looking for a running back in the draft and during free-agency. They assume that C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best will be long gone in the first round when they pick 28th in the first round. So you have to wonder how they feel about Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, who really helped himself with a 4.53 40-yard run. Gerhart, who was a high school star 76 miles away from San Diego, has been considered too slow to the hole by some scouts despite running for 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns this past season. Yes, he’s a nifty runner in the hole. He may remind the Chargers of Michael Turner.