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INDIANAPOLIS -- Day 2 of the NFL combine was chock full of interviews, as QBs Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles were skewered about their potential as first-round selections, while skilled positions prospects, coaches, general managers also took to the podium.
But the real action happened on the labor side, as the NFLPA held its annual agents meeting.On the agenda was agents' concerns about how tough it is to get high-priced deals done in a post-new-CBA period in which $6 million contracts are increasingly hard to obtain. They also voiced their displeasure about the later start to free agency, which now kicks off on March 11.
From the union's side, the NFLPA offered optimism that the cap will increase to close to $130 million, much higher than the expected $126.6 million cap. That's a big jump from last year's $123 million cap.
Enough with the numbers talk, here are the five things we learned on Friday:
1. The top quarterback is competing: Give Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles credit for deciding to throw and do all of the drills Sunday at the combine. Bortles has been the fastest-rising signal-caller in the draft and could now go in the top five. Coming out of high school, he had only four college scholarship offers -- two of them were to play tight end. At UCF, he was coached by George O'Leary, which creates another interesting scenario: O'Leary is close with Bill O'Brien, head coach of the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 overall pick. O'Brien spent a lot of years with Bill Belichick, who often gathers information on prospects from college colleagues who previously mentored those players. A positive scouting report could influence O'Brien to push Bortles up against Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. "It's been a great journey," Bortles said of his rise from an almost unwanted player coming out of high school to one of the hottest rising quarterbacks in the draft. "The guys that were there before myself and the teammates that I played with these past couple of seasons have done a great job of laying a foundation at UCF. Coach O'Leary's done a phenomenal job there in getting that program ready, so going 12-1 and winning a BCS game was huge." Next, we'll see if he can win over Houston, Jacksonville or Cleveland to land in the top four picks of the draft.
2. Tale of the tape: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel measured in at 5-foot-11¾ and 207 pounds, with his hands checking in at 9⅞ inches. Of the three measurements, the only question if his weight. Though he's worked hard to get to 207 pounds, he probably needs to become a little thicker and more muscular to handle the demands and hits of the position. Manziel was pretty entertaining in dismissing any notions of problems with his lack of height and his measurements. "I play with a lot of heart, I play with a lot of passion," Manziel said. "I feel like I play like I'm 10 feet tall. Those measurements to me are just a number." Strong answer. It was hardly surprising that Manziel won the room. Asked the difference between Johnny Manziel and Johnny Football, he said. "Johnny Manziel is a guy. I'm from a small town in Kerrville, Texas -- 20,000 people. What gets lost is the kind of people who make me out to be a big Hollywood guy. I'm really just still a small-town kid." The measurements didn't hurt Manziel. He actually has bigger hands than Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. Bigger hands are important in preventing fumbles and doing well in cold weather. As for Manziel, he began his workouts after playing last season at 198 pounds. He hopes to add another five or six pounds in the next month.
3. The Browns' coaching story doesn't die: A report that the Cleveland Browns tried to trade for Jim Harbaugh hit late Friday afternoon and continues the bizarre circumstances surrounding Cleveland's coaching search. The Browns put out a statement that didn't exactly refute the report, only saying the team conducted an extensive coaching search and explored several options. The statement added the search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine. The 49ers say the trade is completely false, as owner Jed York tweeted the story was wrong. Still, the Harbaugh story overall is an interesting one. He's entering the fourth year of a five-year, $25 million deal, and both sides are nowhere close to reaching an extension. Harbaugh has been to three consecutive NFC championship games and is one of the best coaches in the league. But until he gets an extension, stories like these might continue. There have been stories about strains Harbaugh might have in his working relationship with general manager Trent Baalke. Some of that is understandable because Harbaugh is so driven and competitive that he can make relationships tough because he wants to win so much. But the Browns were never going to get Harbaugh.
|Tom Coughlin will be with the Giants through the 2015 season, but whether he can remedy the team's myriad issues remains to be seen.|
4. Tom Coughlin's extension: It's no surprise that Tom Coughlin signed a one-year contract extension on Friday. Ownership didn't want him to enter the final year of his contract without the security of having a second season. But Coughlin has a tough challenge to turn his team around, as the Giants are littered with issues. The offensive line needs to be addressed, as does the backfield, where a new fullback is needed and starting running back David Wilson is coming off a serious neck injury. Also, veterans Justin Tuck and Hakeem Nicks are both free agents. "You'd basically like to have all of your free agents back, but that doesn't happen. You have guys [get] injured. You have limitations on salaries." Another reporter brought up an interesting point: Nicks had been hoping to get top receiver money, but he had two offseason procedures because of a knee injury. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul also delayed neck surgery last year until the offseason. JPP is now entering the final year of his contract, much like Nicks last year. Coughlin was asked if the Giants can avoid the pitfalls of Nicks' experience with Pierre-Paul. "I don't think that's necessary," Coughlin said. "I don't know whether that was anything there in terms of Hakeem with the contract. But Jason, we had good conversations before he left. He wants to be the player that he was a couple of years ago when he returns."
5. Expect few changes from the competition committee: Eliminating the extra point, centralized replay officiating in New York, expanding the playoffs and adding interference penalties to replay officiating are four of the many items being discussed by the Competition Committee in advance of the 2014 season. Each year at the combine, the competition committee meets to open discussions on changes for the upcoming season. A survey of coaches is taken each January and reviewed by the members at the combine. Early word is now that most major changes aren't going to happen by the start of the 2014 season. Though expanding the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams was debated, it appears the soonest that tweak would go into effect would be 2015 season. The league doesn't know if enough owners are ready to support such a vote for the 2014 season. St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the committee, said it would be unlikely an elimination of the extra point would happen this year. The idea of having replay officiating centralized from the NFL's offices is also unlikely to happen this year. And forget about adding interference calls to replay; the league is concerned about making the games too long.