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Friday, February 22, 2013
Combine observations: Why wait?

By John Clayton

INDIANAPOLIS -- ESPN's Adam Schefter caught everyone's attention Friday morning by reporting the NFL would like to talk the NFLPA into pushing back the NFL calendar.

Such a move would push the scouting combine into March, pushing the start of free agency into April and pushing the draft into May. That won't happen, and here's why.

While it makes sense for NFL general managers and coaches to have enough time to rest and recoup their energy after a season, the NFL is dealing with a union. Say what you want about the NFLPA, but there is no way it is going to allow the start of free agency to go later.

Union members weren't particularly happy having the start of free agency pushed back to March 12, but that was an agreement in the 2011 CBA. No union is going to willingly shorten the period of time potential employees have to find a job. Holding potential free agents back a month from getting jobs, cashing roster bonus checks and finding out if trades are official would have to come with a price.

Unless the NFL is willing to trade off something significant for a delayed start to free agency, nothing will happen and the NFL wouldn't be willing to give up much. Why would it? NFL owners were able to increase the league's revenue share along with getting a hard rookie pool in the 2011 agreement.

The other reason the NFLPA won't agree to such a change is it would push the start of free agency closer to the draft and potentially to the decision dates for the draft. Let's say you are a quarterback looking for a job. If free agency started three or four weeks before the draft, teams looking for quarterbacks might wait until the draft to get a quarterback who might be cheaper rather than gamble for one who is available in March.

For teams, this was a good idea for the NFL to float. The chances of it happening, though, aren't good.

Here are the five things we learned Friday at the combine.

1. The Cleveland Browns may not be aggressive in hunting for a new quarterback: New Browns management hasn't hushed rumors that the team would like to upgrade the quarterback position.

While Brandon Weeden was the first-round choice of the Mike Holmgren administration, he wasn't the pick of the Jimmy Haslam ownership group. New Browns management would like to get a read-option type of quarterback, mirroring the current trend of mobile quarterbacks. That's one of the reasons the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski as coach, because he could go well with a read option. Chudzinski, who worked with Cam Newton the past two seasons, is an aggressive playcaller.

Trading for Alex Smith would make sense because of his background with new Browns' offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whom he worked with during their days in San Francisco. Smith wouldn't be an option for the read option. He's a pocket passer and rollout quarterback.

The Browns' interest in a read-option QB also doesn't help West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who said he has the ability to run a read-option offense, but that isn't really his game.

As for Weeden and Colt McCoy, Chudinzki said, "I've been looking at that quite a bit in conjunction with some of the other things we've been working on. I'm excited about those guys.

"They have interesting skill sets. They've made improvements. They've been able to win games, and I'm excited."

In short, that means the Browns might be patient in the quarterback market. They might not dangle too high of a draft choice to acquire Smith. It's not out of the question for the Browns to stick with Weeden and McCoy and then wait for something in the next year. The Browns want read option, but they might wait.

Tom Coughlin
Could this be Tom Coughlin's last season with the Giants?

2. Tom Coughlin wants to continue coaching … but this could be his last season: Coughlin is a two-time Super Bowl winner and a coaching institution for the Mara family, which owns the New York Giants. The Giants stuck with him and gave him an extension when players and fans wanted him out.

In response, Coughlin gave the Giants and their fans two Super Bowl championships. It didn't take too long in Friday's combine news conference for reporters to bring up his soon-to-be-expiring contract.

"I wondered how long it would take to get to that," Coughlin joked. "I tried to think of something funny to say, but I don't know what to say about it. I approach each year the same way I always approach them, and the energy is flowing well. I'm excited about that."

What that means is if the Giants do well this year, the Coughlin era will continue. If not, he might retire or be let go. Coughlin is 66 years old.

"Maybe at some point I'll get the message, but it certainly isn't now," he said.

Coughlin admits last season was a disappointment. The Giants went from Super Bowl winners to not even being a playoff team. He worried about the team's inconsistencies.

"We lost two divisional games by three points," he said. "We gave up points in the last quarter in a lot of games. The year before, the whole mantra had been, 'Finish the game, finish the game, finish the game.'"

Say what you want, but the Giants have a good man in Coughlin.

3. Jason Garrett may not know who is calling plays, but he's secure about his new defense: Garrett, the Dallas Cowboys head coach, went into detail about how well the Cowboys' defensive personnel will fit their switch from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3.

Garrett's first piece of news was the announcement that Jay Ratliff, despite an injury-plagued season and an offseason DUI charge, will be with the team this season.

Garrett also talked extensively about how well DeMarcus Ware can switch to defensive end from linebacker and how Anthony Spencer could do the same if they can find a way to keep him. Spencer is an unrestricted free agent, and the Cowboys are $21 million over the salary cap. Most 3-4 teams switch into four-man lines in passing situations.

Garrett hired Cover 2 guru Monte Kiffin to be the defensive coordinator. One thing Garrett brought out is how Cover 2 doesn't mean complete soft zone coverage. He pointed to the defense run by Pete Carroll in Seattle. Carroll learned a lot of his schemes from Kiffin. Garrett said a lot of Cover 2 defenses play with a safety deep and a strong safety playing near the line of scrimmage as an eighth man in the box. To do that, a team needs two good man-to-man cover cornerbacks. The Cowboys have two: Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.

4. The Atlanta Falcons are recovering from their NFC Championship loss: Head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff reflected about what has happened to the Falcons since the loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

First, quarterback Matt Ryan has recovered from his shoulder separation and is now lifting weights. He's no longer in the rehab protocol. He should be good to do everything when the offseason program begins April 12.

Smith said cornerback Brent Grimes is doing well in his recovery from knee reconstruction, but the timetable is usually nine months. How that affects Grimes in free agency remains to be seen. It appears as though the team is ready to cut running back Michael Turner to free up cap room.

And both team executives remain optimistic that tight end Tony Gonzalez can be talked out of retirement, but there is no timetable for a decision. What's clear is the importance of Gonzalez's return. To think they can find a running back, a tight end, offensive line help and add defensive players this offseason is a lot to ask. The Falcons are at the conference championship level. Breaking in a young tight end instead of having Gonzalez could set them back.

5. Is Geno Smith poised to make a move Sunday or will it be someone else? Friday was quarterback interview day at the combine as most of the top QBs in this year's draft spoke to the assembled media. Each player tried to set the stage for Sunday, which might feature the most interesting quarterback throwing session in recent quarterback history.

Few groups of quarterbacks have been beaten down with negative reports like this one. There are many projections which point out that none of the quarterbacks is good enough to merit a first-round choice. Based on that premise, some quarterbacks could do well enough in their throwing sessions on Sunday to enhance their stock.

West Virginia's Smith might be the most interesting to watch. He has the arm and athletic ability to entice any team to make him a first-round choice. What was interesting Friday was how he explained his poor finish -- the Mountaineers lost six of their last eight games -- to the season and why he skipped the Senior Bowl.

"We came into a new league," Smith said. "We came out real hot. We were fired up and ready to really prove ourselves. Then, inconsistency set in.

"I'm not going to say that anyone wasn't working hard. When we went through that stretch, I was the first one to stand up in front of the team and let them know we're going to work even harder and we're not going to put our heads down. That's the one thing I take from that experience is that being a leader, you're not going to deal with fair situations at all times."

Maybe Smith can bounce back if 2012 is considered a learning experience. Smith said he was advised to stay away from the Senior Bowl even though he admits to being very competitive. And, now with Matt Barkley not throwing at the combine because of a shoulder injury, Smith has the most to gain Sunday.