- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- While coaches and general managers settled into hotel suites to interview the 60 draft prospects they are allowed to meet during the NFL combine, the drama of free agency, trades and NFL business made the buzz around Indianapolis.
The annual scouting combine is an all-business convention for the NFL. The Packers' re-signing of tight end Jermichael Finley got the combine off to a good start Wednesday because of its impact on the quarterback market. The Peyton Manning story remains a headliner in the city Manning turned into a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Here are the five things we learned Thursday.
1. The Rams are open for a trade: With the second pick in the draft, the St. Louis Rams could be very active this week in fielding offers for teams interested in trading up for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who has either the 11th or 12th pick in the draft depending on Friday's coin flip, thinks the Seahawks are too far away from the No. 2 pick to make a deal. Plus, the Rams are in the same division as Seattle, and they wouldn't want to give Griffin to a rival. That leaves the Browns, Redskins and Dolphins as teams in the draft with a top-10 pick that could go after Griffin. The Browns draft No. 4 and might have to give up their other pick in the first round. The Redskins draft sixth, and because they aren't interested in unsigned Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn, what would make sense is working on a trade to get something done as early as this week. If the Redskins made the right offers this week -- and we have had draft-choice trades made before the trade deadline and at the combine -- the Redskins could get to No. 2. The two main options for the Redskins are Griffin or Manning.
2. Franchising Flynn: The structure of Jermichael Finley's two-year, $15 million contract had Packers reporters wondering if general manager Ted Thompson could franchise Flynn in order to ship him to either Miami or Seattle in a trade for a second- or third-round choice. The reality is the Packers probably won't do that. First, to Finley's deal. He'll get about $9.25 million in the second year of the contract in order to keep the 2012 salary cap number lower than the expected $5.4 million for tight ends who receive the franchise tag. Including Flynn, the Packers have only seven unsigned veterans and no unrestricted or exclusive rights players to re-sign. But there is a risk in franchising a backup quarterback. Flynn would make $14 million under the franchise tag, significantly more than starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who makes $8.25 million this year. Rodgers might not take to making less than his backup. Knowing this would be Flynn's first big payday, he would sign the franchise tag and have a guaranteed 2012 salary. That would eat up most of the remaining cap room of the Packers after they restructure contracts or cut tackle Chad Clifton and wide receiver Donald Driver. Tagging Flynn would make sense if the Packers could negotiate the terms of a trade of Flynn before the trade deadline, which is technically against the rules but is nonetheless done by some teams. Though that makes sense, don't expect Thompson to do that. He's very strict in following league rules, particularly when it involves the franchise tag. The other thing is the Packers will receive a draft choice as compensation if Flynn leaves in free agency. The Packers would figure to get a third-round compensatory pick in 2013 if Flynn leaves and signs a big contract. Expect Flynn to be a free-agent option for the Seahawks and Dolphins.
3. Peyton Manning will remain a Colt -- at least for another week: First of all, nothing happened on the Manning front. Owner Jim Irsay is out of town until next week. Manning is working on his rehab from neck fusion surgery. Though Irsay said last week he'd discuss Manning's future within a week, nothing has happened. Irsay is leaving the door open for Manning to restructure his contract and stay with the Colts. Manning has been quiet and isn't tipping his hand over what he wants to do. There was one interesting development on Thursday, though. Arizona general manager Rod Graves left the door open for Manning as a quarterback option for the Cardinals. Graves said he's not ruling anything out. While it would seem unlikely the Cardinals would go after Manning after trading for Kevin Kolb last year and giving him a $62 million contract, the Cardinals, according to sources, would consider Manning. It would be a move similar to when they brought in Emmitt Smith at the end of his career. However, Washington and Miami remain the main options if Manning is cut.
4. The Steelers aren't prepared to lose Wallace: There have been rumblings this week that the Steelers could lose wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is a restricted free agent. The Steelers are over the cap, and an interested team could put together an offer that might not be cap friendly enough for them to retain him. Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert spoke at a news conference and sounded optimistic about keeping Wallace. He has studied the history of restricted free agents and realizes the limited success of removing restricted free agents away from their original teams. Colbert is placing the first-round compensation on Wallace. If another team signs Wallace, the Steelers would have seven days to match. With restructured contracts and future veterans to release, the Steelers plan to get in cap position to be able to match a Wallace offer sheet. In the meantime, the Steelers will try to sign Wallace to a long-term deal. He's one of their best players.
5. Putting Matt Forte in Fort Lovie: Bears coach Lovie Smith said unsigned halfback Matt Forte will end up staying with the Bears. Smith pretty much made it clear. The Bears' plan is to try to sign him to a long-term deal or franchise him. The franchise tag is around $7.7 million. During the season, Forte was asking for around $8 million a year, and the team was offering $6 million. Knowing that the franchise number is closer to Forte's 2011 demand, he may want more but it could be an acceptable long-term deal. Expect Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks to get a long-term deal for around the franchise number, according to a source, although that deal isn't worked out yet. On the flip side, Smith revealed that Johnny Knox is still coming back from his neck fusion surgery, which will put the Bears in the market for a veteran wide receiver.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter
If the Rams are fielding offers for the No. 2 pick, what's it mean for Robert Griffin III, John Clayton writes.