The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, and there will be plenty to watch other than young adult males running in spandex on NFL Network.
Indianapolis becomes the center of the NFL universe for the next week. Prospects will be evaluated. Doctors will be consulted. Agents will strike deals.
The defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers will want another successful combine, after three solid drafts out of three by general manager Dave Gettleman.
Here are five storylines to watch throughout the week in and around Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Finding the guy at No. 30
Only once has Gettleman had a draft pick above No. 25 in his four drafts in Carolina. That means you’re winning, and that’s a good problem to have.
But it makes for picking in the first round a little tougher. There are more variables above you, and Gettleman hasn’t had more moving parts than he will in April, when Carolina picks at No. 30.
Gettleman has demonstrated that he will take best player available over need, proven last year when they took Shaq Thompson at No. 25. Thompson played about a third of the snaps in his rookie season, but Carolina felt confident he was the best player on the board at that slot.
The Panthers could go after a defensive end, cornerback, offensive tackle or receiver. Some names you’ll hear throughout the next week will be Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd, Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander, Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin, Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker, Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard and Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller.
Tag, you’re it
The Panthers have until the afternoon of March 1 to slap the franchise tag on cornerback Josh Norman, which would give Norman essentially a one-year contract with $13.7 million guaranteed.
Both sides would like to figure out a long-term deal, and the franchise tag allows the Panthers more time for that. While it’s unlikely Carolina and Norman agree to a four- or five-year deal averaging close to $14 million per year within the next week, applying the franchise tag will give the Panthers until July 15 to reach an agreement.
The tag isn’t a matter of if, but when. Carolina doesn’t want to see its All-Pro cornerback go to another team this year.
But some caution is required.
The collective bargaining agreement between players and clubs in 2011 left players little wiggle room when stuck with the franchise tag. But there’s always the specter of a holdout.
If Norman and his agent want to play hardball, they could pressure the Panthers into a long-term deal by threatening to miss part or all of training camp and the preseason. Holding out into the regular season wouldn’t do much for Norman because he’d miss out on a weekly $806,000 check, but a defending conference champion doesn’t want to deal with that before Week 1.
And Norman wouldn’t want that either. He has developed a reputation as a talker, and adding a malcontent label won’t do him any good if he eventually hits the open market.
Meet with agents
There will be roughly $1 billion in free-agent money available when the new league year begins March 9.
The destination for much of that money is mapped out in Indianapolis.
Carolina will have around $30 million – and maybe more – by that time, and the team will meet with agents of current players to negotiate contracts and with agents of other soon-to-be free agents looking for a price.
Defensive end Charles Johnson’s contract situation will be key for the Panthers in the coming two weeks. Will he restructure his contract to give back money, or will the team cut the defensive end and save $11 million in cap room?
Other agents will angle for their guys to be extended or given raises based on performance.
Gettleman will have his hands full with college prospects and pro contracts, so he’ll be aided – as always – by assistant GM Brandon Beane, director of pro scouting Mark Koncz and director of team administration Rob Rodgers.
Evaluating character and health
If the college scouts have done a good job the past six to eight months, they won’t be too focused on the testing done at Lucas Oil Stadium.
They’ll know if a guy is fast or slow, if his hips are stiff, if he doesn’t get good bend.
But the combine is more than just what you’ll see on NFL Network. This week is the first time the players will be evaluated by the 32 team doctors.
This is where you truly find out about a guy’s medical history. How has he recovered from that knee injury? Does he have a heart condition?
Indianapolis is also where a team’s general manager, coaches and scouts can sit in a room and get to know a player. In the past, some clubs have asked off-the-wall questions such as, “Which team do you pick in Madden and why?”
The Panthers, though, want to test football acumen while getting to know the player. They’ll get him on the whiteboard and draw a play, or ask him a question about his background.
These teams usually already know the answer to the background questions – they’re just testing to see how truthful a player will be.
There are at least 28 players with ties to the Carolinas heading to the combine.
Clemson leads the way with eight players after finishing No. 2 in the nation this past season. N.C. State is second among Carolinas schools with five players going.
Here’s a list of all the local players: Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair; East Carolina’s Bryce Williams and Montese Overton; Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, B.J. Goodson, T.J. Green, Jayron Kearse, Charone Peake and D.J. Reader; Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Will Monday, Georgia’s Keith Marshall (Raleigh Millbrook); Florida’s Jonathan Bullard (Boiling Springs Crest); N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett, Juston Burris, David Grinnage, Shad Thornton and Joe Thuney; UNC’s Landon Turner; N.C. Central’s Ryan Smith; Notre Dame’s Romeo Okwara (Ardrey Kell); South Carolina’s Jerell Adams, Pharoh Cooper, Brandon Shell and Brandon Wilds; S.C. State’s Temarrick Hemingway and Javon Hargrave.
2016 NFL Scouting Combine
Who: 330 college prospects.
When: Interviews with teams and media begin Wednesday; testing starts Friday.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
Watch: NFL Network will cover the workouts live each day beginning at 9 a.m.
Friday: RBs, OL, specialists
Saturday: QBs, WRs, TEs
Sunday: LBs, DL
April 28-30, Chicago