NFL Combine about much more than draft
By Mike Catalana (Indianapolis)
It's an event that has been derogatorily dubbed the "Underwear Olympics" and I see where that can seem to be the case. When you see the NFL Network show the NFL Combine, and you watch a series of 40 yard dashes and pass routes in shorts and t-shirts, you can be led to the conclusion that it's a whole lot of to do about nothing. You don't play football in shorts and t-shorts and measurables don't make a football player. And as someone who has covered this event numerous times, I am not going to argue either of those points. I am going to tell you that the upcoming draft prep is only about half of what goes on here.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman compared the Combine to the baseball Winter Meetings. That is because it is the place where everyone who makes decisions in the league is together and that leads to deals. And when I say everyone, we aren't just talking about coaches and GM's. This place is flooded with player agents. And if you don't believe those guys have a major influence on who does and does not suit up for your team, then you are not paying attention.
Let's take the Bills situation with QB Tyrod Taylor. The deadline is fast approaching where they have to make a call on the player option. While here in Indy the Bills are simultaneously dealing with Taylor's agent (to possibly change the terms of the deal) working with other teams on possibly acquiring a veteran QB if they let Taylor walk (Trevor Siemian anyone?) and getting an up close and personal look at the quarterbacks in the draft if they choose to go young and new.
Technically an agent is not permitted to talk with a team about free agent player until the free agent period begins. But there are rules and then there is real life. If all of the decision makers could literally be standing next to each other in a line for coffee, there is a much greater chance of communication that can lead to deals than there is if they are not at the same event. The Combine structure also allows for some serious feeding of information to media members to try to get a narrative started. For example, ESPN reporting that the Patriots are not planning on trading Jimmy Garoppolo. Seriously? Does anyone buy that? I am not saying a Patriots source did not tell that to ESPN, but New England is not going to be pushed into a corner (like the Bills) by a March deadline when they can wait until August to deal Jimmy G if they want. So they use the Combine to get the word out that they are not dealing to increase Garoppolo's value.
Back to the draft prep, I think team's value the time they spend with a player (interviews and medical testing) more than they value the on the field work. Sure a player can open eyes or make a team pause with a good or bad time in the 40. But in a room with the GM, a coach and his staff, a player can do much more good or harm by the way he interacts than anything else. I have heard stories of a team bringing in a player that they liked very much for an interview and by the time the guy leaves the room they have crossed him off of their board. The players themselves have attempted to work on preparing for those interviews also. Part of their prep for the Combine if to prepare for the team and media interviews. They have learned how important it is to the cause.
NOTES: I like the idea of the Bills working on an extension for RB Mike Gillislee. I think he has a chance to be a really good player with extended work. I don't think it impacts Lesean McCoy, but you never know. Sean McDermott said the team will speak with one voice and that will be his. Interesting. McDermott used that voice to say Stephon Gilmore won't get the franchise tag (expect him to be done) and that Leslie Frazier will call plays on his defense. Rochester's Jarron Jones (Notre Dame) is prepped for questions he will get about his knee and about his attitude. Some feel he doesn't love the game enough. He told me he is ready to prove his worth and has been working out in San Diego to get ready. ESPN's Todd McShay told me he sees Jarron as a mid round guy (3rd to 5th). Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn opened some ears when the talked about Rex Ryan giving him opportunites to prepare as a head coach. But it was interesting to hear Lynn say that "when Rex didn't feel like doing something he gave it to me" . And another former Bills head coach, Doug Marrone of the Jags said he made a mistake in the way he left Buffalo and he has since spoken to owner Terry Pegula about it.