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What we learned: Combine Thursday's 18 takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS -- Twenty-seven NFL head coaches and general managers spoke at the NFL Scouting Combine. Some of them said virtually nothing of substance. Others were chock-full of nuggets. All of them spoke in code.

Teams don't normally announce franchise tags or roster cuts during the combine. But they leave a lot of breadcrumbs about what player personnel moves are coming. It's a day for football news diehards. Here's what Marc Sessler, Chris Wesseling and I learned during a frenetic Thursday:

1. The Seahawks essentially announced they wouldn't use the tag on defensive end Michael Bennett. Wesseling asked Seahawks GM John Schneider if the tag was an option for Bennett.

"I don't anticipate that," Schneider said.

2. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman was more open-ended when discussing the tag for defensive end Greg Hardy.

"Every team is going to do everything in their bag to get it done. So who knows? I don't know," Gettleman said.

Gettleman kept stressing how cap-strapped the Panthers were. He didn't want to make short-term decisions. He also emphasized he wouldn't have big, long-term deals for a lot of players. And that you should spend big on big players. (Translation: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn shouldn't expect a huge, long-term offer.)

3. The most endearing Gettleman trait: His hard New York accent when saying Stah Lotulelei. The surprising item from Gettleman. He was noncommittal about Steve Smith's future, even though cutting Smith wouldn't save salary-cap money.

"Steve's had a great career, and (long pause) the bottom line is, it's part of the evaluation process," Gettleman said. Strange.

4. Good news for Gettleman: The cap is expected to rise about $4 million more than expected.

5. The Patriots announced Michael Lombardi as an "assistant to the coaching staff," an odd, vague title for a player personnel guy. Bill Belichick's explanation for Lombardi's role was just as vague:

"Mike's got a lot of experience. He's done a lot of things in his career in the NFL ... We do what we always do -- what we think is best for our football team."

6. Only at the combine: Belichick waxed nostalgic about when the combine was held outdoors and he watched Refrigerator Perry's vertical jump in the fading light of man's mortality.

7. Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith were both very harsh about wide receiver Mike Williams' off-field transgressions. It makes you wonder if he's a lock to stay on the team.

8. It was quarterback smokescreen day: Smith said the team will consider a signal-caller at pick No. 7. (Translation: Trade with us!) Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer said the team could throw a "curveball" at the position.

And Bills coach Doug Marrone admitted that the Bills could go in any direction at quarterback in 2014 in free agency or the draft. Not a good sign for EJ Manuel.

9. Not a smokescreen: The Bears talked about drafting a quarterback to back up Jay Cutler if Josh McCown bolts.

10. In veteran player news, the Titans were quite noncommittal on Chris Johnson's future. Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith, however, strongly indicated Osi Umenyiora would be back with the team. Vikings GM Rick Spielman spoke strongly about linebacker Chad Greenway's leadership. And Bears coach Marc Trestman said Julius Peppers was "very important" to the team, indicating that perhaps the team is trying to work out a reduced contract.

11. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim talked up Stepfan Taylor having a bigger role next season alongside Andre Ellington. Don't expect the team to re-sign Rashard Mendenhall.

12. Also from Keim: The Patriots never called asking about Larry Fitzgerald in a potential trade. And his description of Carson Palmer was interesting.

"With the supply and demand at quarterback, Carson at least puts us in the position where you don't have to force, and when I say force, you're sitting at 20 or wherever we are in the draft, and feel like we have to have one," Keim said.

13. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett sees DeMarcus Ware as a "young" player. They had a long talk Wednesday. Ware is not going anywhere.

14. Garrett spent five minutes tying himself into knots explaining the new Cowboys coaching structure. I left more confused than ever.

15. Rex Ryan started his news conference in perfect Rex style.

"Main thing about tonight is to get by without getting fined," Ryan said. "I'll open it up to questions."

And then he got really wacky, saying everyone knows Ed Reed was outstanding last season and that he'd love to have Mark Sanchez back. (Rex also talked highly of cap casualty candidate Antonio Cromartie.)

16. The artificial offseason boosting of Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher has started. Andy Reid said Fisher's growth last year was "phenomenal."

17. Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was strong when speaking about taking responsibility for the team's bullying scandal. But he was vague when asked about the futures of Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey. Why the secrecy on whether Incognito is done with the team?

18. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh indicated that linebacker NaVorro Bowman realistically might not return to the field until midseason.

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