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Dwayne Bowe, Joe Flacco, Darrelle Revis head combine gossip


INDIANAPOLIS -- As you read this, the NFL world is in Indianapolis, site of the annual NFL Scouting Combine. Hotels have filled up, team insignias are prevalent and the talk has turned to football.

Already, the league's competition committee has been meeting for four days to discuss the development of rules -- the annual precursor to the arrival of the prospects. And as you read this, the players are being poked and prodded by team executives.

But there is so much more that goes on in Indianapolis. In short, it's the ultimate gossip circle, which is a truth that becomes truer every year. Get a few hundred NFL people in the same city at the same time, and you'll start to hear things.

With that in mind, here are 10 things I'm looking forward to hearing about at the 2013 combine:

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1) The latest free-agent talent with some alleged "baggage." We've already heard it start. Like clockwork, it happens every year. A player is about to hit the free-agent market, and possible suitors are jockeying for position. They want his value low. Take receiver Dwayne Bowe. The whispers already have begun about him being a risk, though he wasn't too risky for the Kansas City Chiefs to franchise last year. Or consider New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who put in extra work to fit into the Pats' defensive backfield. Now it comes out that he really didn't work? Hmmmm. Be skeptical. Consider when and why this "news" is coming out.

2) Anticipating Manti madness. The media ruckus over Manti Te'o's interview should be epic. Remember the crowd when Cam Newton spoke to media members at the 2011 combine? Nah. Child's play. There should be a record scramble to hear the responses from the much-discussed Notre Dame linebacker, who taught many of us the term "catfished." Meanwhile, teams will shrug. More important to those considering drafting him is how he answers questions in their 15-minute face-to-face interviews. When it comes to gauging maturity level, the answers he gives behind closed doors are far more crucial.

3) Finding out if anyone really wants to spend. The salary cap will stay mostly flat, and yet salaries continue to go up. The result, just based on conversations with team executives, is that few will want to really spend in free agency. This is the word from Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team has more cap space than anyone: "Our salary-cap space needs to spent on our own players," noting an internal focus. Yet stars like wide receiver Mike Wallace, offensive tackle Jake Long and defensive end Cliff Avril will want to get paid. Who will ante up?

4) Will anyone use the franchise tag? We're four days into the period during which teams can use the tag, and no one has applied anything. Even supposed no-brainers like Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton and Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd have yet to be slapped with a tag. Why? Teams don't want a ton of salary-cap space tied up so early. Don't be surprised if this lingers, as teams spend the week attempting to work out deals with their own free agents. Often, reaching a long-term deal is beneficial for both parties.

5) Which teams are legitimately in the market for a free-agent quarterback? At this point, Alex Smith is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers and Matt Flynn is still with the Seattle Seahawks. That won't be the case for long. Michael Vick being off the market ups their value. Without a sure-fire Day 1 starter available in the 2013 NFL Draft, Smith and Flynn get another stock boost. Teams will find out for real this week. But which teams -- the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals? -- like either guy enough to give up a valuable draft pick? Trading opens up March 12, but teams will begin to craft their actions this week.

6) How much change are the Pittsburgh Steelers really talking about? More than $10 million over the cap and with no intention of using the franchise tag, the Steelers could perform a housecleaning. In fact, general manager Kevin Colbert has said his team will "make decisions to change." So who goes for this team suddenly in transition? James Harrison? Willie Colon? Even (gasp) Troy Polamalu? Getting their first look at possible prospect replacements, Pittsburgh might be primed for activity this week.

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7) Time to get to know the NFL's newest coaches. In the offseason, eight teams replaced their coaches, with some of them spotlighting fresh faces, at least as far as the greater NFL landscape was concerned. Could you pick new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski out of a crowd before he was hired? What about Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman? You can now. Guys like Chudzinski have been grinding underground for a month, learning their teams' personnel and understanding how their staffs like to grade players. Time to come out and meet the world in this week's combine interviews.

8) How serious are the New York Jets about trading star cornerback Darrelle Revis? It's been a month since rumors emerged about New York possibly trading Revis, and the Jets have done nothing to minimize that talk. They seem to be very seriously considering the immediate and long-term impact of sending their best player (and his looming contract renegotiation) packing. This would do more than merely produce the biggest NFL trade in years; it would also signal a rebuilding year for Gang Green, which would be bad news for Rex Ryan.

9) Let's gauge the progress of the Baltimore Ravens' talks with Joe Flacco. Both the Ravens and Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, have clamped down on talk about Flacco's contract, which means it's time to get serious. The plan is to sit down this week and begin trying to hammer out a deal, with the March 4 deadline for applying the franchise tag as the first looming date of importance. Linta has said publicly that Flacco should be among the game's highest-paid players, but those quotes are not as important as the goals he actually brings to the negotiation table when he sits down with Ravens brass.

10) Perhaps the Percy Harvin situation will become a little clearer. When approached by a beat reporter at his Florida house, the Minnesota Vikings receiver said he wouldn't talk about his contract. Yet when you speak to people around him, it's clear Harvin wants a new one. He's also requested a trade in the past, though that was based around on-field concerns. What now? Will the Vikings, on the heels of a resurgent season, clear up the picture surrounding their most electric receiver? Will the potential trade returns be enough for them to pull the trigger?

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.



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