NFL

NFL combine must stay in Indy, OTA no-shows and more

The NFL has committed to Indianapolis as the host city of the Scouting Combine through 2021. After that, it could be moved. That would be a huge error.

In 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a promise. Now he’s trying to deliver.

The collateral damage could be Indianapolis. Almost a decade ago, Goodell told owners privately the league would reach $25 billion in revenue by 2027. One general manager believes the promise is why the NFL Scouting Combine is both going primetime and eventually to the bidding table. That same general manager believes moving the combine out of Indy will “f**k everything up.”

On Wednesday, it was announced the league agreed to keep the event where it has been since 1987 for two more years. After that, a series of options. It was also announced thr drills would be moved to the afternoons and evenings.

Talking to multiple general managers and agents, there’s unanimous sentiment that leaving Indianapolis would be a colossal mistake.

For starters, the proximity of everything within downtown Indy. The combine is an enormous event, but everything takes place within a few blocks. From the workouts and medical exams to the tampering and big dinners at Prime 47 and St. Elmo’s, everything is within walking distance of everything else. The setup is such that the player’s hotel is attached to the stadium, which is attached to the convention center. Everyone has access to everyone else. In Indy, convenience is king.

“We all know teams tamper,” a prominent NFL agent said. “With hotels more spread out, you can’t walk from one meeting to the next. … There’s no other layout that gives you what Indy gives you.”

“Yes I care (if it’s moved),” said another veteran agent. “Indy is the perfect setup. Gets old when they make decisions simply for money knowing most of the increased dollars just go to the owners anyway.”

“They should never move it from Indianapolis,” texted another general manager. “That would be a very big mistake.”

With both ratings and the fan’s appetite growing annually for the combine, the discussion of making the combine more profitable was inevitable. The league has transformed the draft from a sleepy Saturday morning into a three-day gala under the lights, with cities bidding for the right to play host. Goodell clearly views the combine in the same manner.

The upside of all this?

“On nights when you don’t have a player performing, you’ll have a much easier time getting a table at St. Elmo’s,” said one veteran agent.

It must be noted that moving the combine around has hurdles. Unlike the draft, the league can’t hold the combine in any NFL city. For safety and assessment purposes, the venue must be indoors. Additionally, those within the league will demand a similarly easy setup to navigate. Finally, no city colder than Indianapolis.

The potential landing spots? New Orleans, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

So what could be the unintended consequences of moving the combine? It’s no secret free-agent deals are discussed over steaks and drinks or in a hotel room high above Maryland Street. If cities involving coordinated transportation become central to the combine, the Senior Bowl might become the hub for action that it once was. Mobile is small and centralized, with most teams staying in the Renaissance Hotel.

In recent years, some general managers have skipped large portions of the week in Mobile.

Suddenly, Veet’s replaces Prime 47. Downgrade in the atmosphere, but business must be done.

While the relocation of the combine is the topic carrying the day in NFL circles, there is also concern in some corners about the shifting of drills from day to night. While opinions varied on the impact prime time will have on the event, there was no debate the players’ rest schedules is the most essential talking point. A few of the agents downplayed the change, while some felt strongly about the topic.

“I care a lot,” texted one of the league’s most powerful agents. “Shows that the league only cares about (money) and not the actual analysis of the players. It totally changes everything preparation related to the combine and getting players at their peak. All of the players should refuse to work out. Moving it around is a logistical nightmare for me and my trainers but we’ll adapt and adjust.”

Another point raised was the order of which the schedule would be laid out. Over the past decade, the demand on players has become greater. The medical exams are far more intense, leaving some players with sore joints for the following few days. In addition, long spells of interviews have interrupted sleep and eating patterns which were established for months prior to the combine.

There’s a notion players should arrive in Indianapolis a few days prior to the combine, allowing them to become acclimated to the schedule. From there, players could do all their on-field testing on Day 1 before going into interviews and medicals.

“I think the No. 1 factor that matters, and it’s the same thing at midnight or 5 a.m., is this combine is a four-day event,” said trainer Pete Bommarito of Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami.

“For a lot of players it’s a five-day event. Now they’re talking six days. … Will they let them sleep and will they eat properly, and will they wreck their joints in these medical evaluations? I’ve seen adequate and phenomenally prepared players where they have late interviews, late MRIs and they get a lack of sleep, and they can’t stay on the meal plan, and all that stuff. If you have drastic changes, it’ll effect their performance.”

For years, the combine has been a hub of activity. It has provided rhythm and stability to chaotic days in the NFL calendar. Those days may soon be over.

Power rankings

Top 10 players (excluding QBs) slated for free agency in 2020

1. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
2. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
3. Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seattle Seahawks
4. Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans
5. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
6. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Houston Texans
7. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos
8. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
9. Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
10. Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns

Quotable

“I definitely look at the market and see where guys is at. A great example is Sterling Shepard. I feel like our game is kind of similar, kind of close. He got four for $40 million. I kind of feel like I’m in that area. Hopefully, they come like that or a little bit more or around that way. I feel like my ability is worth that much. I feel like my value is that much. But I’m not going to go out there asking something crazy because I had one great year. I want to continue to show them that I can do that every single year, that I’m a 1,000-yard receiver every year.”

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd about wanting to stay in the Queen City

Boyd is entering the final year of his rookie deal with the Bengals. However, Cincinnati’s long history suggests it will allow Boyd to test free agency. Under Owner Mike Brown, the Bengals only extend superstars and quarterbacks. They rarely pay the second-tier guy. Just ask Mohamed Sanu.

However, Boyd’s comparison to New York Giants receiver Sterling Shepard is intriguing. Boyd is a year younger than Shepard (24) and has the only 1,000-yard season between the two. Conversely, Shepard has more receptions (190-152), yards (2,286-1,856) and touchdown (14-10).

If Boyd can put up another 1,000-yard campaign, he should have no problem getting Shepard’s $10 million annual value, if not more.

Podcast

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Random stat

Michael Vick is the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Vick rushed for 1,039 with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. The only other quarterbacks to reach 900 rushing yards in a season are the Chicago Bears’ Bobby Douglass in 1972 (969) and Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990 (942).

Info learned this week

1. Brown, Beckham can’t bother to show up for OTAs

Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. decided not to show up for OTA sessions.

For Brown, he missed the first day but managed to arrive for the final two. In Beckham’s case, he never showed at all. Some will point to the OTAs being voluntary, and fair enough. Players don’t have to show up, but both Brown and Beckham are missing the point and doing their teams a disservice.

Both the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns have young rosters and are trying to rebuild. In Oakland, Brown is the team’s best player. The rookies and second-year players will take their cues from him. They will watch everything the future Hall of Famer does. When he skips OTAs, it sends a message. This stuff doesn’t matter.

Brown is well within his contractual rights to miss everything up to mandatory minicamp, but it says plenty about his commitment to a franchise that just added $30 million to his contract.

As for Beckham, there are more wrinkles here. The Browns have a first-year head coach, a second-year quarterback and a ton of new moving parts. They also have major expectations. Beckham not showing up is doing both he and Baker Mayfield no favors. Yes, they’ll have time to get on the same page in training camp, but why not start now?

Fans of both teams will scream that it doesn’t matter. Whenever you send a message that you’re indifferent, it always matters.

2. Jets’ damage control from Gase is tardy

New York Jets head coach Adam Gase finally said it. No, Le’Veon Bell is not on the block.

Great. It should have been said publicly the second after the story leaked out.

New York fired General Manager Mike Maccagnan on May 15. Two days later, John Clayton of the Washington Post reported that for the right price, the Jets were willing to trade Bell, whom Gase didn’t want at his $52 million cost in the first place. For more than a week, the organization was silent.

During his OTA presser, Gase — currently the interim GM as well — flatly stated that the Jets would not trade Bell. It’s the right message, definitive and clear, but it’s late. Silence is a statement and a powerful one. Waiting this long was a mistake, whether it be Gase or co-owner Chris Johnson. It gives the appearance that Gase isn’t behind his best player, which in turn could have other players wondering just how much support they have.

If Gase was smart, he’d start talking to local media behind the scenes and currying favor. He might well need it.

3. Ravens, Jackson need much better communication plan

Lamar Jackson showed up to work this week and found out an interesting nugget. The Baltimore Ravens changed their entire offense without telling him.

At least that’s the story that Jackson told during OTAs, explaining that new offensive coordinator Greg Roman ditched the old playbook for his own. It’s impossible to think that a franchise as well-run as the Ravens managed to recreate the offense without telling their second-year quarterback. However, why would Jackson lie? Odd.

Baltimore desperately needs Jackson to be better in his second season. The Ravens jettisoned a litany of contributors this offseason including Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Michael Crabtree and John Brown. If Baltimore is going to repeat as AFC North champion, Jackson has to take on more responsibility. As a rookie, the first-round pick ran (147 attempts) almost as often as he passed (170 attempts).

When Jackson threw, he completed only 58.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He’ll need to be much-improved.

4. 49ers should be concerned about injuries to Ward, Bosa

Not even June, and the San Francisco 49ers are already having injury woes.

In their first OTAs of the year, second-overall pick Nick Bosa was forced off the field with a pulled hamstring. Two days later, safety Jimmie Ward dove for an errant pass. Broken collarbone.

While both players aren’t expected to miss regular-season time, General Manager John Lynch has to be concerned. Throughout his high school and collegiate career, Bosa has suffered a torn ACL, a groin injury and a core muscle issue that took away almost his entire junior year with the Buckeyes. Ward also has an ugly history, limiting him to 51 games played over his five NFL seasons.

Ultimately, this bad luck could mean nothing. Bosa and Ward could star come Week 1. Unfortunately, both have a past when it comes to missing serious chunks of time.

5. Packers players are at different levels of beer chugging

During Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals in Milwaukee, we learned a few things.

We learned Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari can chug beers any time, anywhere. We also learned Aaron Rodgers can’t chug at all. We also learned that Matthew Stafford can win a chugging contest from hundreds of miles away while sitting in a restaurant.

Here’s what else has been happening, though. Rodgers is seemingly lightening up. After the Game of Thrones series finale, Rodgers stood at his locker and talked for almost two minutes about how he wanted to see the ending unfold. He was funny, affable and approachable. Then on Thursday, Rodgers played to the crowd. He didn’t chug well, but he showed a side of him the public hasn’t seen in recent years.

Maybe it’s a new coaching staff and the challenges that come with it. Maybe it’s age and perspective. Maybe it’s his personal life blossoming. Who can tell?

What’s important is Rodgers having fun. That will go a long way in the locker room.

History lesson

They only reached a single Super Bowl in the 1970s, but the Baltimore Colts played in plenty of memorable postseason affairs.

In 1970, the Colts won the first AFC Championship Game before defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. In 1976, Baltimore hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts were blown out at Memorial Stadium. What’s so memorable about that? A plane crashed into the upper deck minutes after the contest ended.

Finally, in 1977, a classic. The Ghost to the Post. In double overtime, the Oakland Raiders beat the Colts 37-31, with Ken Stabler hitting tight end Dave Casper on a deep ball to set up the winning score. It would be the last time the Colts played a playoff game in Baltimore.

Parting shot

Donovan McNabb believes he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. He was terrific. He’s also wrong.

McNabb played 13 NFL seasons, enjoying 11 with the Eagles before finishing up with the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. In that time, the Syracuse product amassed 37,276 passing yards, 234 touchdowns and 117 interceptions. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and started for Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots.

Still, McNabb was never an All-Pro. He only topped 20 touchdown passes in a season five times. He was never the best quarterback in the league.

During his time in the NFL, McNabb wasn’t better than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees or Brett Favre. Philip Rivers also has a better case, totaling eight Pro Bowl appearances alongside 54,656 passing yards, 374 touchdowns and 178 interceptions.

Although many scoff at Eli Manning’s eventual candidacy, he reached four Pro Bowls, won two Super Bowls, and has thrown for 55,981 yards and 360 touchdowns against 239 interceptions.

McNabb was very good. He belongs in the Eagles Ring of Honor and whatever the team does for former greats. He doesn’t belong in Canton.

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