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NFL Scouting Combine's biggest surprises

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Scouting Combine always delivers its share of surprises and this week was no different.

As we mentioned on the "Around The League Podcast," some of those stunners came directly from the lips of the league's coaches and general managers. Other nuggets fell from the sky like a bomb blast.

Let's take a look at some of the bigger surprises to surface during our voyage to Indy:

Secretly seeking Harbaugh

The NFL community was sideswiped late Friday by a ProFootballTalk report claiming that the Browns were close to obtainingSan Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Niners CEO Jed York took to Twitter to deny the report before Harbaugh told ESPN's Ed Werder: "I know nothing about a trade with the Cleveland Browns and us, involving me."

A statement from the Browns neither confirmed nor denied the tale, but NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport told us Friday that Cleveland did, in fact, make a run at the coach.

We agreed on the podcast that the latest drama to come out of Cleveland says much more about the 49ers than the Browns. San Francisco reportedly is unwilling to pay Harbaugh like a Super Bowl-winning coach despite three straight trips to the NFC title game.

None of this sits well with 49ers fans, but the week's juiciest story might ultimately help Harbaugh land the contract he wants in San Francisco. As for the Browns, they seem enthused about the early returns on new coach Mike Pettine:

Ageless in Arizona

We pegged the Cardinals as a no-brainer to draft a quarterback, but not anymore.

Coach Bruce Arians told Around The League on Friday that he could see Carson Palmer playing until "36, 37." The coach said he has "no doubt" that the aging passer still has enough gas in the tank to guide Arizona to the promised land.

Arians later told me that he would consider it a waste to draft a young signal-caller right now, saying "I don't think quarterbacks learn anything holding clipboards." Besides, the coach sounded perfectly content with Drew Stanton as the backup.

Palmer was far from perfect last season, but he improved down the stretch and remains firmly entrenched as the starter heading into Year Two of the Arians regime.

Steve Smith's mysterious future

It's strange to imagine the Panthers without Steve Smith, but both general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera hinted that the 34-year-old receiver is no sure bet to return to Carolina next season.

When I asked Rivera if he could imagine a scenario in which Smith wouldn't be on the roster come September, the coach told me: "Not quite sure."

Our takeaway is that Carolina -- described repeatedly by Gettleman as "cap-strapped" -- is going to ask the wideout to consider a pay cut. If Smith's unwilling to budge on his $4 million guaranteed salary and $3 million bonus, it's conceivable that May's draft will be used to add talent at the position. Rivera cited the receiver slot as one of the draft's deepest pools of talent.

Our guess? Smith and the team still find a way to make this work.

Cortland Finnegan staying put

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We listed St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan as a prime target for release on the heels of an injury-marred campaign.

To our surprise, coach Jeff Fisher shot that down this week, telling Gregg Rosenthal that the Rams expect the defender to be back for the team's offseason program.

St. Louis can save a whopping $9 million in cap room by designating Finnegan as a post-June 1 cut, so we expect him -- like Smith -- to be asked to accept a reduction or hit the street.

Healing from a fractured orbital bone, Finnegan has plenty to prove after struggling through the worst season of his eight-year career.

*The latest "Around The League Podcast" taped live from the NFL Scouting Combine with all the latest free agency and draft news. *

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