INDIANAPOLIS -- NFL Scouting Combine player workouts don't begin until Saturday, but the city is already buzzing from all the Peyton Manning talk, the Rams shopping their second overall pick to any team in desperate need of a quarterback and many other hot topics around the league. As one league executive told me, the combine is one part playing convention, one part lying convention. And the lies are certainly starting to flow.
The player convention is the easy part. Workouts on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf allow players to showcase their talents for all 32 NFL teams. The lying part of the convention happens in every downtown hotel, restaurant and bar. Teams send out mixed signals to agents of players about to hit the market. Agents, in return, claim their player is the hottest free agent available and that multiple teams are interested. This is poker season in the NFL and the smart executives who can read a bluff always will prevail. But there will be a few teams who listen to an agent's pitch and get suckered in under the pretense, "We have to have this player."
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Agents love to hear that phrase. It means more money is coming and teams have a hard time backing off. Never should a team be at the mercy of one player because there are so many options in finding talent. Teams must determine which players are replaceable, and which players aren't. Teams that don't give themselves options in every situation will make mistakes -- costly mistakes.
So how do you read a bluff from an agent who tells you that another team is interested in his client? One way is to know that other team's past operating procedures, its team personnel, what that lineup vitally needs -- and make sure it all makes sense. Every agent will claim the Washington Redskins want their player -- in part because the 'Skins have enormous cap room and also because they have a well-earned reputation of overspending. Most agents want Washington in the game because more chips will be in the middle of the table.
Another way to avoid getting suckered in is to not let the market determine the value. Let the player's production on the field define his worth. The smart teams are always prepared to walk away when the bidding gets too rich. When I was in the league, I had a few rules about certain teams. For instance, if one specific team was involved, then it made no sense to continue to pursue that player. That team always overpaid and its evaluation was never consistently correct. So if that team liked a guy, it made me question my own evaluation. If we were thinking like that team, then we had to be thinking wrong. This called for additional research.
When free agency starts next month, don't believe everything you hear and read when it comes to teams being interested in players. Agents will use the media to promote their players. Instead, as a fan, think like a club executive and read between the lines of every report.
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As for the draft, after talking to many club executives, it really seems that the top 10 will feature more volatility than ever before. The value of the player and the cost of the pick are in close enough proportion that it makes sense to trade draft picks. What does not make sense is to use the same draft value chart that has been used in the past. That chart is using old monetary values for the picks, so it cannot be applied to the new rookie pool.
Moving forward, the smart teams will develop their own chart to account for the new values of picks, as well as the limitations on the years allowed for each rookie contract. In any negotiation, the two essential items are time and money. Since the league has altered both with regard to the rookie pool, the chart must be updated.
The next month of the NFL year is my favorite time, as it involves a mixture of knowing the essentials about both pro and college personnel. Blending the two will be important, but playing a good game of poker is essential.