The NFL might make a 40-yard dash to the bank
Combine week(ish) is here again! Having endured 48 hours of vague soundbites from coach and executive press conferences, thousands of fans will tune in Friday as running backs, offensive linemen and specialists take the field for drills. In the main event, quarterbacks (with the exception of Sam Darnold) will throw on Saturday. About 500,000 people will watch. That type of mass appeal for the scouting showcase was once unthinkable, but NFL Network has grown the event into a multi-day ratings draw. This year, the network sent 23 commentators. The league further expanded the spectacle by creating an "NFL Combine Experience" for fans last year.
When the NFL really wants to go big, it will take the show on the road. That's how it has handled the Super Bowl since its inception, and more recently that's what has been done with the draft, which this year is being held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The combine could be next.
There are barriers keeping the event in Indy, where it's been held since 1987 after bouncing between New Orleans and Arizona—chiefly a contract that ties the league to the location through next year at least. Plus, player evaluators will push back against any relocation. Comparing drill times to previous results would be harder if the field changes, and a new host city would come with new protocols for the medical testing and off-field meetings that make the combine so valuable. Indianapolis would also fight change, seeing as the event brings in 4,000 powerful visitors and roughly $7 million in economic impact.
But while Indianapolis offers compactness and familiarity, it can't match Los Angeles for tropical clime or TV infrastructure. Las Vegas would have a solid pitch too, given it already hosts the NBA's summer league and should have a new stadium in 2020. Buffalo, Washington, or whomever builds a stadium next will also put forth a case, as will any site that loses out on upcoming drafts and Super Bowls. As long as national interest remains high, it's easy to see the combine as another sweetener for the league office to offer when asking for public investment, while becoming an even bigger generator of news, enthusiasm, and cash than it is now. The NFL's old school won't like it, but they could find themselves unable to stop the league's next 40-yard dash to the bank.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Robert Klemko rounds up combine rumors ... Andy Staples profiles 350-pound defensive lineman Vita Vea ... Albert Breer breaks down the QB class ahead of their combine workouts ... and more.
WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Breer defends Jon Gruden's style ... Klemko talked to Baker Mayfield's favorite target ... Andy Benoit figured out how the Marcus Peters trade will affect the Chiefs and Rams ... and more.
1. It's time to say goodbye to Matt Forte. "The roar of the crowd at Soldier Field as I’d break a run or make a big catch will forever be ingrained in my mind," Forte wrote on Twitter. "It’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable." Though he had just 381 yards for the Jets in his final season, Forte ranks first among running backs in scrimmage yards (14,468) since he entered the league in 2008, and fifth in total touchdowns (75).
2. Reports indicate the Rams are looking to trade wideout Tavon Austin and might end up cutting him. The other trade to look out for: Su'a Cravens to the Broncos (even if Jay Gruden said "we're not trading him").
3. Returned Panthers GM Marty Hurney said he was not going to let loyalty prevent him from making the smart move. And he's already delivered, moving on from players he signed during his last stint in Carolina, like defensive end Charles Johnson and running back Jonathan Stewart.
4. Sad news: Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly, 58, has once again been diagnosed with oral cancer. His wife, Jill, wrote on Instagram: "We are shocked, heartbroken, sad, angry, confused, and just darn tired."
5. Rob Gronkowski is probably going to play football in 2018, according to NFL Network. Although, three hours after that report, Gronkowski tweeted "#clueless," and Thursday, his agents declined to comment on his football future. (So who knows.)
6. Ryan Shazier won't be playing this year, but Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said the linebacker "involves himself in team issues so he can be a formidable member in 2018."
7. The Jets have released Muhammad Wilkerson, as expected. The defensive lineman was disciplined by the team multiple times after signing an $86 million deal in 2016.
8. Dez Bryant could be the next big name searching for a new team, as Clarence Hill writes: "Dez Bryant’s days with the Dallas Cowboys appear to be numbered. There is no other way to explain the team’s continued vague and noncommittal stance about his future."
9. Before Kirk Cousins scores the richest contract in NFL history, meet the agent who is going to help him do it.
10. Can I interest you in another mock draft?
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