INDIANAPOLIS -- Ian Rapoport is on the ground at the NFL Scouting Combine, canvassing the hallways of Lucas Oil Stadium, hotel lobbies and everywhere else seeking the latest rumors and intel around the NFL. Here are five things folks are buzzing about right now:
1) Tom Brady's new contract extension took all the focus away from the combine for a minute. In a way, the deal was stunning. A franchise quarterback taking an average of $8 million per season over the final three years while simultaneously opening up so much cap space for a perennial contender? It left everyone in Indy buzzing. However, the fact that it guarantees Brady $57 million shouldn't be lost. This keeps all doors open for Brady to still be on the roster when he's 40. It also takes away any long-term fear Brady might have that someone will do to him what he did to Drew Bledsoe. It's the same reason Brady never wants to come off the field late in games, just like it's one factor that continues to drive him despite his success. Guaranteeing his entire salary was a goal in his last contract extension, and that almost got done then. Now, it's a reality. This deal almost certainly eliminates any discussion of Brady not finishing his career with the Pats.
2) Brady deal frees up cash for Pats to spend. The conversations between the Patriots and Brady's representatives had been going on for some time, and Brady's focus was always on more than money. As he told one close friend late in the talks, "There's no wing in the Hall of Fame for who made the most money. It's about Super Bowls." This person also pointed out that while many say it's not about the money for them, Brady is living this idea. He left a ton on the table to help his team, taking a modest $3 million raise. There are two factors to consider. First, he'll give the team at least $20 more million to spend in free agency. Second, Brady always looked at older quarterbacks like John Elway and Dan Marino, noting how their increased salaries led to some late-career awkwardness. He doesn't want anything to taint his legacy. He's eliminated that possibility for himself.
3) Will New England make a play for a big wideout? We mentioned earlier in the week not to rule out a long-term deal being reached between Wes Welker and the Patriots. Brady's new contract ramps up the anticipation even more. I was told it wasn't wrong to link the Patriots' new salary-cap space with a possible resolution to the Welker situation. But I would be surprised if that was the only signing the team made during the free-agency period. There is still a thought that Brady, Welker and Co. need a big receiver on the outside, which has actually been a need since Randy Moss left. With the work that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (and maybe Welker) will do in the middle of the field in 2013, an outside threat would help immensely. Dwayne Bowe could still hit the market, and Mike Wallace has always garnered Bill Belichick's praise. Things just got interesting.
4) The combine is all about the meetings. The combine wraps up Tuesday with most agents, teams and players leaving town. By all accounts, it's been a busy week for meetings. While it doesn't seem that the free-agent market is going to be a high-speed, high-powered one, there certainly is an ample list of players to keep teams interested. The difference this year from, say, three years ago is that the free-agency period is more than a week away from the combine, so teams have been reluctant, in many instances, to discuss specific numbers with agents of prospective clients. Yes, the anti-tampering window has helped, though not everyone is following the rules. There still have been talks. What are these meetings like? One agent explained that he'll sit down and detail his free-agent client for a team. The team will say, "What's your dollar range?" The agent will answer with the basic parameters of a possible deal, with a ball-park per-year average. The team will then ponder and respond, saying whether it would be interested or not. If it is, that's one target to pursue when free agency opens. If not, the team moves on. Pretty simple.
5) Monte Kiffin is turning heads in Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys' hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator raised some eyebrows in the NFL, if only because teams rarely tap 70-somethings to join their staff. Kiffin returning to the NFL would have been less shocking a few years ago, when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called him about joining his staff before ultimately hiring Gus Bradley. But now that Kiffin is on the Cowboys, he is earning rave reviews. Those who watched him closely this week saw the mesmerizing effect he has on players. During his meetings with prospects, the kids appear to intently listen, soaking it in. One compared Kiffin, with his low-talking ways, to a Zen master. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his incredible memory for football details would be impressive for someone of any age. By pairing him with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, whose wisdom has similarly impressed, the Cowboys should improve. The focus has been on simple teaching and fundamentals. Good. Oh, and by the way, those rumors of a possible Jon Gruden reunion with Kiffin and the old Tampa Bay Buccaneers band? Eh, I'm not sure Kiffin and Gruden got along as well as most people think. Don't see that happening any time soon.
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