by John Czarnecki
INDIANAPOLIS - The scouting combine is the biggest convention of coaches, executives and agents for the NFL. Sure, there are 330 or so potential players here being tested and interviewed ad naseum and I'm sure the ladies are upset that these young men are no longer going topless but mainly this is a talk shop of what may or may not happen in pending free-agency and where potential deals are made on dozens of unwanted players. Enter any restaurant or hotel lobby and you will see club personnel fraternizing with agents and vice versa.
Here is the best of what I heard and was told:
The asking price for Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel is somewhere between $10 and $11 million per season. The Saints are currently the leader to land Samuel, although that could change. Samuel's price got this high because Atlanta's disgruntled DeAngelo Hall is asking for $10 million. The Giants aren't really interested because they won't pay Hall's price, but there is no doubt Atlanta will trade him for a first-round draft choice.
It'll be tough to double-team Randy Moss if he's lining up opposite T.O.
The Patriots and Randy Moss really aren't close to a new contract, although the Pats believe Moss will give them the option to match whatever deal he does receive on the open market. That makes sense because the clubs pursuing Moss will be limited because he wants to play for a contender. The most interesting rumor is Moss joining the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys can pay up, and wouldn't T.O. and Moss be interesting to watch, not to mention impossible to defend?
Nobody could figure out why the Bengals placed the franchise tag on guard Stacy Andrews until I heard that five teams had him targeted in free-agency, and that he was the No. 1 prospect of the Falcons. For years, being an offensive lineman has been the best position in the NFL for collecting big paychecks. Guards now are being paid like left tackles consider that the Seahawks have $12 million invested next season in Sean Locklear and Mike Wahle, who played like a stiff in Carolina last season.
Speaking of the Panthers, they gave money to four suspect veterans while dumping some big-name talent. The word is that the Panthers have the most leader-less locker room in the NFL, and that's why they are talking about bringing back Moose Muhammad. Their biggest decision, however, will be whether or not to give Julius "I Don't Love Football" Peppers a $30 million signing bonus in the next year.
The Bucs were thinking about making a run at Bears quarterback Rex Grossman until Chicago re-signed him. DeShaun Foster is begging the Bucs for work at $2 million a season, while Jon Gruden is waiting and hoping that Denver releases WR Javon Walker later this week instead of paying him $6 million. If Walker is free, the Bucs will pursue him before chasing after Minnesota's Troy Williamson.
Some teams are wondering why the Bears didn't place the transition tag on WR Bernard Berrian in order to at least see what kind of contract offers he receives. Sometimes teams cut players loose, figuring the money is going to be too expensive. But there's nothing wrong with protecting your investment a little and matching it. Berrian keeps talking about wanting to play for the 49ers.
There is still a chance that Raiders owner Al Davis will fire head coach Lane Kiffin and replace him with James Lofton, who was fired as the receivers coach of the Chargers. How bizarre is that? It's also no secret that current Oakland assistans Greg Knapp and Tom Rathman will be on Jim Mora's 2009 Seattle coaching staff.
The Jets are prepared to dump a truckload of money on the doorstep of Steelers guard Alan Faneca when free-agency begins.
The Browns and quarterback Derek Anderson are very close on a three-year contract for big money. The Browns have been leaking details that they falsely want a six-year deal so that when they announce a three-year contract, it looks like they won the negotiating battle. This coming from a franchise that is paying offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski $2.7 million per season and preparing to give Braylon Edwards $25 million over three seasons. Who knows what Kellen Winslow will do if his contract doesn't get renegotiated?
Nobody believes that Bill Parcells will draft Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with the first overall selection, but that doesn't mean Ryan won't go in the top five. That scenario seems unanimous among coaches and scouts here, and with the Falcons selecting third overall, they should have a difficult time passing on Ryan. Of course, the two safest picks remain Virginia's Chris Long and Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, who has wowed everyone with his performance. The only knock on Jake Long is that he may be a better right tackle than a left tackle. Both Longs are high character, no-nonsense young men. Yes, the Dolphins need a quarterback. How about Delaware's Joe Flacco in the second round?
There is no doubt that Jim Zorn is a quarterback guru, but most of his offensive assistants are ex-running backs, and there isn't one of them, including Zorn, who has ever called plays in a NFL game. You can also bet that veteran QB Todd Collins will check out both Miami and Atlanta to gauge those teams' interest in him as a stop-gap starter now that Zorn has pledged his allegiance to Jason Campbell.
Speaking of the Redskins, you have to wonder if owner Daniel Snyder would have made a run at Seattle's Mike Holmgren if he knew that Holmgren could have gotten free of his contract. And we all know that GM Tim Ruskell would have allowed Holmgren to leave in order to promote Mora now instead of waiting another season. It also sounds like Holmgren will be coaching somewhere next season, or at least hoping to land a job like the one Parcells has in Miami.
The Giants will definitely give Michael Strahan a new contract if he wants to play next season. The decision is all his. "Now that he has a ring, he could be leaning more toward retirement," said Giants GM Jerry Reese. "But we definitely want him back if he wants to play."
No one really knows where Spygate is headed now and whether there is actual video evidence implicating the Patriots in taping opposing team's practices, etc. But if there is and Roger Goodell is forced to suspend Bill Belichick, Dom Capers could end up as interim head coach in New England.
Some interesting stuff, see how it all plays out