- What you see on TV is just a small sliver of what goes on at the NFL's talent show in Indy—and not even the most important part. A day at the combine begins before dawn and runs into the wee hours of the night, encompassing thousands of interviews, hundreds of medical checks, and countless deals getting brokered over steaks and shrimp cocktail. The MMQB flooded the zone last Saturday to capture it all
INDIANAPOLIS — On a four-block walk to dinner last Saturday night in Indianapolis, an MMQB staffer passed Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Jaguars football chief Tom Coughlin. As it has every year since 1987, the entire NFL descended upon Indianapolis last week to evaluate the next crop of NFL talent, some 336 players. With very few exceptions, every general manager, coach, scout, personnel exec, player agent, NFLPA-certified financial advisor and national media member was here.
Unlike Super Bowl week, whose activities (and hotels, bars and eateries) are typically spread around a metro area, Indy’s compact downtown makes for a uniquely dense concentration of NFL movers and shakers. Most stay in a cluster of six hotels—the JW Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Conrad and Omni—within a few blocks of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.
And they aren’t there just for the talent show. What NFL Network viewers see at home—men in their early 20s running, throwing and catching in tight-fitting gear—makes up just one part of the combine. There’s much more behind the scenes: thousands of interviews between prospects and team staffers; comprehensive medical checks for players; agents and execs meeting over drinks to lay the groundwork for deals; apparel and sports drink companies pushing their products and trying to rope in new clients among the about-to-be-rich; informal get-togethers of coaches and GMs to talk shop or just catch up; reporters—1,351 media credentials were issued—covering it all, mining for info and cultivating sources …
The preferred restaurants for deals to get done are situated along Illinois Street. In the early morning hours, rumors and smoke mix with some truth and a lot of alcohol at Prime 47 and Shula’s Steak House.
In the latest edition of our 24 Hours series, The MMQB spent Saturday, March 3, from before sunrise into to the wee hours of the night, gathering it all in, reporting everything that goes on in a day at the NFL scouting combine.
Just off the elevator on the third floor of the Westin, a small garbage can is overstuffed with containers of Meijer takeout—still warm—from a late night turning over into morning. Around the corner the facility’s three-room gym is already being put to use by some combine power brokers.
Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett pedals on a workout bike as he scrolls through his phone with both hands, keeping the balance through some unknown kinetic force. Charles Davis, an NFL Network analyst, pumps on the elliptical. A pair of Lions scouts round out the pre-dawn crowd, one on a Peloton bike and the other motoring through a circuit of weighted workouts.
In the lobby just after 6, scouts from the Chargers, Eagles and Cardinals slowly orbit the Starbucks next to the elevator bank. The sign promises the store will open promptly at 6 a.m. For now, no such luck.
“Bad coffee,” Titans GM Jon Robinson says, sipping some brownish water, a bit pained, pausing before heading out to get a good seat for the morning weigh-ins and measurements. Another day at the combine is about to start for Robinson, who will be going until his team’s last meeting after 10 p.m. The combine routine is numbing for all the GM-scout veterans here: fortify on coffee early, slog through measurements, testing and on-field drills, then meet with players in 15-minute sessions separated by the blast from a loud air horn. Finally, catch a third wind around 11 to have beers with peers and old pals you don’t get to see often enough. If you’re lucky, five-and-a-half hours of sleep per night is about average.
“Lather, rinse, repeat,” Robinson says, and heads out with a few of his scouts into the dusky Indianapolis morning. Sunrise is 36 minutes away.
Starbucks, JW Marriott
Some call this spot on the second floor of the chic-for-Indy JW the Nexus of the Combine Universe. It’s because it connects from the hotel to the skywalk to the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium, and serves as a hotspot for those hanging for combine tidbits, conversation and a little gossip.
Within the next hour you’ll see 49ers GM John Lynch holding court with scouts and shaking hands with Washington player personnel boss Doug Williams as he passes by. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sits at a high table. New Lions coach Matt Patricia already has his pencil tucked into his hat. Broncos quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan orders a venti coffee. Buffalo GM Brandon Beane talks with superagent Drew Rosenhaus, who happens to represent the Bills’ soon-to-be-30-year-old running back LeSean McCoy.
At one table, the morning’s subject was Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown, whose performance the previous day was disastrous. He was glacially slow in the 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds just 14 times; 30 would have been acceptable. Out of shape in a big way, one NFL assistant coach says, coffee in hand. He compares Brown’s upper body to those of “the women I saw out last night.”
Concourse, Lucas Oil Stadium
There are plenty of theories as to why the combine has exploded into what it is today, and a major element is the television industrial complex around it. NFL Network is providing blanket coverage for the 14th straight year. Saturday, when QBs throw, will draw an average of 389,000 viewers, the most-watched day of the week.
Daniel Jeremiah is eating an orange for his first meal of the day. The NFL Network analyst woke up at 6 a.m., met Charles Davis downstairs at 7:10 for coffee and to grab his cufflinks (Jeremiah forgot to bring his own), got makeup and was ready for his first hit as the day’s coverage began at 9 a.m.
Quarterbacks and receivers are doing on-field workouts today, Jeremiah’s bread and butter as a former Appalachian State QB, before his scouting days. He’s constantly working at getting better at TV (he’s already very good) and knows that details are key. He doesn’t want to just say, for instance, “This guy hasn’t spent much time under center.” He’s got a note card with the under-center percentages for the top five quarterbacks.
“Lamar Jackson has been under center 8.4% of the time, twice as much as Sam Darnold,” Jeremiah says during a break, orange in his right hand, “which I don’t think people really realize.”
NFL Network booth, Lucas Oil Stadium
Stage manager Puma Nelson tells Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock they have three minutes in this break. Mayock leaves, presumably for the restroom, and jokes to Eisen that they should “practice our spontaneity.”
Eisen asks NFL PR’s Andrew Howard about Roger Goodell’s schedule. Eisen is in his 14th year of running the 40-yard dash for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which he’ll do on Monday this year. Goodell has promised to run as well on Monday, in a hallway at the NFL’s New York offices, and Eisen is looking for a more precise time than between 9:30 and 10 a.m. for the commissioner.
“I mean, it’s only going to take him 6 seconds to run it,” Eisen says, dryly. (On Monday, Goodell will clock a 5.41; Eisen a 5.97.)
Encore B Network production truck
“In 30 we’re coming to you, Rich,” director Mark Teitelman says into the headset. “David [Carr], you’ll be hot as always.”
“David’s always hot,” someone quips.
There are six production trucks at the lowest level of Lucas Oil, and Encore B is the most important. This truck decides what viewers at home see and when they see it. Receivers are running go routes, and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen is about to throw. He has the strongest arm of any prospect since JaMarcus Russell, and here’s where he can show it off.
Allen throws one ball from the 10-yard line to the opposite 31, a respectable 59 yards. Teitelman thinks he’ll do better.
“If we get a good Josh Allen, we’re going Blue, Delta, Silver, X,” Teitelman says, referring to different replay angles that his operators will quickly roll on. Shouts build from inside the truck.
Oh he’s going to rip this one.
Let it fly, brother.
Let it rip, bro!
Allen uncorks a 66-yarder. It’s the throw of the combine.
Lucas Oil Stadium
On the bottom level of the stadium, three mobile MRI machines parked in a U-shape are creating a literal buzz, thanks to all the magnets.
Jessie Bates, a safety out of Wake Forest, is next door in orthopedic room No. 6. After this he’ll have a vision test and finally be done with his medicals, after being up since about 3 a.m., when he woke up to take a drug test. He’s one of the lucky ones, because some guys needing more medical tests won’t leave here until dinnertime.
The medicals portion of the combine is the most secretive and, likely, the most important. Doctors, physicians and athletic trainers from all 32 teams will poke and prod the young men in whom millions of dollars will be invested. Earlier in the day, potential first-round defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was diagnosed with a heart condition that kept him out of all combine drills. A player could run a fast 40 or stand out in positional drills, but a bad report from the doctors might drop him not just a few picks but a few rounds come April.
Bates’ day here started around 7 a.m., when his group of DBs got to the lounge. No NFL personnel except the doctors are allowed in this area. Bates’s height and weight were measured, and he did a baseline neurological test. Then he went for a general medical exam—essentially a slightly more intense physical than you’d get at your primary care doctor. Bates sat at one of 12 desks and had his heart rate and blood pressure checked by a physician before going to one of the seven medical tables. Doctors there would check him out and do dictation that will be disseminated to all 32 teams.
From there he was sent to five different ortho rooms and finally, to the sixth and last one. There are five doctors from NFL teams in four of the rooms and six in the other two. The rooms are arranged however the doctors wish, whether they put their tables for note-taking on the side facing the wall or in a U-shape around the medical table. In each room there are light boxes to put up results from X-rays, CT scans or MRIs.
This is where Bates finds himself. He’s on the table with an X-ray and MRI scan on the light boxes. Last season he sprained the MCL in his left knee and missed two games. Apparently the doctors are satisfied with his knee and the scan, because he’s not ordered to take another MRI today, which would keep him there several more hours.
While the knee scan is the most important for Bates, it’s not the only one. In high school he jammed his pinky finger playing football and continued jamming it in basketball. There’s an X-ray of his pinky on the light box, and doctors are pulling at his smallest finger to ensure it’ll be NFL-ready.
“You could see it’s a little crooked,” says Bates, who should go between the second and fourth rounds. “Nothing wrong with it but a little crooked.”
Lucas Oil Stadium
No one will compete with Josh Allen’s arm from earlier, but Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen have to give it a try. It’s go-route time for the second quarterbacks group, and QB15 and QB16 are now up.
Mayfield shows perfect consistency. All three of his balls drop into receivers’ hands at the 38-yard line after he starts his drop at the opposite 15. About 17 minutes earlier, Rosen bounced a slant-route pass off the ground in front of South Florida receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Redemption is in store.
Rosen takes his drop and fires from the 12-yard-line. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, the best receiver in this year’s draft, starts tracking it once he crosses the 50. Ridley flashes his hands at the 35 and catches the pass in stride at the 30. A perfect 58 yards in the air from the UCLA quarterback.
In a suite above Section 208, looking down and to their left on the field of quarterbacks, sit the decision-makers for the Cleveland Browns.
Hall K, Indiana Convention Center
Each member of Group 8A, the defensive line prospects with last names in the first half of the alphabet, has an assigned position at a podium or a table. North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, one of the top players in the draft, is at Podium 1.
Though this part of the combine seems perfunctory, how these players handle themselves publicly is important to some coaches and execs. Saints coach Sean Payton was seen milling around some interview scrums this week. A crowd wielding cameras, digital records and iPhones awaits Chubb. But as he begins his interview, a loud announcement interrupts from the other side of a black curtain: The linebackers’ bench press is about to begin! The 6'4" Chubb conducts his interview leaning down to hear questions over the cheers.
“A lot of people have been saying I’m going to the Colts,” Chubb says, “but you never know.”
Rinse, repeat question and answer for other teams picking in the top 5.
Room 232, Indiana Convention Center
The 3 p.m. group of six linebackers is running a little behind as Auburn’s Jeff Holland gets in front of the camera. BlocBoy JB and Drake’s “Look Alive” plays on the stereo in this room as Holland bobs his head and smiles for “Kira,” a motorized camera that operates like one of those robotic arms that will one day take over the world. He hands his iPhone to someone behind the camera to manage Instagram Live for him.
ESPN has constructed three sets in three days in this room, to shoot video and stills of all the draft prospects for their draft coverage beginning in April. All the cool draft spots leading up to the big day? Those are shot here.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is on another set, shooting stills. The black backdrop has a faded white star in the middle—remember, the draft is in Dallas this year—and he has his dreads draped over his face while gripping a football. Behind the camera is a cart of props, mostly lassos and cowboy hats. Edmunds opts against using any of those.
Indianapolis International Airport
Baker Mayfield has just submitted his combine haul to the airline skycap, in two heaping black bags. One of the benefits of being courted by Nike and adidas is walking away from Indianapolis with more complimentary shoes and apparel than you could hope to stuff in a carry-on. [One under-the-radar part of the combine is the battle of the brands. Under Armour, Nike and adidas all have suites at different hotels in Indianapolis this week. Nike has a barbershop at their spot at Le Méridien.] The Nike/adidas decision will come later for Mayfield; first he’s got to make a 4:50 flight to Los Angeles, to get back in time for former Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard’s wedding reception.
At the brink of the security line, Mayfield is flagged down by a fan in his early 20s toting a Saints helmet. “I’ve been following your whole career,” the man says. “You’re an inspiration. You do it for all the six-foot white guys with a dream!”
It’s all well and good, but Mayfield is more concerned about the Saints helmet. While New Orleans might be looking to draft a QB this year, it doesn’t pick until 27, and Mayfield is expected to be gone to another team by then. “I’m probably gonna get killed for this somehow,” he says as he scrawls his name across the temple of the helmet in black marker. The Heisman winner advances through security and flies coach.
Indiana Convention Center
All 6'4" and 347 pounds of Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea will go in the first round of the draft. He would tweak his hamstring on Sunday, but it wouldn’t matter. His film speaks for itself, and he could be the strongest rookie in the league next season, as evidenced in Indy.
Stanford’s Harrison Phillips put up 42 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press minutes ago, the most of any player in five years. Vea follows shortly after and similarly is putting up 225 as if it were just the bar … 38, 39, 40 …
Vea shakes off the spotter as he locks his right arm on the 41st rep. He’s going for 42, and he rests the bar on his chest just under his pecs. The crowd goes from raucous to quiet; then Vea psyches himself up, and the fans in this room start cheering again. He’s shouting into the air above him. Someone shouts Get it off you chest! back at him.
Three quick breaths and then a burst from Vea. He raises the bar for a 42nd time and is inches from locking his arms. But he’s spent. The bar begins to fall back to his chest, and the spotter grabs it just as Vea lets out a final barbaric yawp.
Indiana Convention Center
About two dozen people, mostly men, wait behind an orange rope on the other side of Hallway K, with Sharpies and glossy prints in hand. Every NFL coach and executive coming from the stadium must pass by here, so this is the autograph-hunter’s web to ensnare them.
Wade Phillips, the 70-year-old defensive coordinator of the Rams, decides to indulge the group today. It’s with the understanding that these autographs will likely be for sale—these are mostly memorabilia professionals—before they’re out of Indianapolis. A man, maybe in his 50s, offers a Cowboys hat to Phillips to sign.
“Hey, I was there,” says Phillips, who roamed the Dallas sideline from 2007 to 2010.
“I know it,” the man says, “and you did a heck of a job.”
Indiana Convention Center
No one talks about this part of the combine, ever: players starting their professional careers and actually getting paid for things. (Well, at least legally.) Here, right next to the place where 500 people just finished watching and cheering on Vea, is a large Gatorade booth with a video game set up in the middle. The virtual-reality game, called “Beat the Blitz,” is intended to inform players about the effects of dehydration—which, incidentally, can be combated by sports drinks.
Two quarterbacks—USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, both prospective top-10 picks—are the draw. They play “Beat the Blitz” and then situate themselves on opposite sides of the display area. Two receiving lines of media members, mostly from markets with teams that could draft a quarterback, line up to spend five minutes or so one-on-one with one or both QBs. Part of the deal: Darnold and Allen will mention Gatorade or “Beat the Blitz” a time or two in each interview.
Allen is a natural. At one point he’s talking to a New York-area writer and says, “It’s great to have the chance to play ‘Beat the Blitz’ and to partner with Gatorade on something important for training like this.”
No clue what these two are paid for an hour of being Gatorade spokespeople, but it’s surely not the last time they’ll have a chance to parlay their draft status into marketing chances.
St. Elmo Steak House, South Illinois Street
This legendary Indianapolis restaurant is as crucial to the combine as the 40-yard dash. Every meal this week is likely to end up on an expense report. This is where gossip is shared, and where deals get done.
Byrn Jones, the restaurant’s VP of marketing and sales, says combine week isn’t on par with the Final Four, but there’s a clear uptick in sales. Whereas a Big Ten football championship or business convention may give the place a boost for a day or two, the impact of the combine is spread out over eight days. St. Elmo has to staff up for the combine, but most employees are long-timers so “everyone pretty much knows the drill and knows what to expect.”
This early in the evening, there’s just one recognizable face in the dining area. Mike Mayock was live on air from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., taped an additional segment, walked to the convention center to do a hit with Eagles media at 4:22 p.m. and conducted a 25-minute press conference at 4:45.
He’s downstairs here, enjoying a well-earned meal with his daughter.
Crowne Plaza, Room 162
The sixth of 14 New Orleans Saints interviews for Saturday evening walks into this single room on the ground floor of the Crowne Plaza, a converted train station a few long spirals from Lucas Oil Stadium. Vea, he of the 41 bench reps three hours ago, shakes hands with the New Orleans brain trust.
“Holy cow,” coach Sean Payton writes in his combine notebook, with space for comments on all 336 players here. “His calves are huge.”
As noted, the Saints pick 27th. Vea is sure to go in the first half of the first round, and New Orleans isn’t likely to trade up to get him. But at the combine, there’s an old cliché saying in all 32 of these rooms: You never know. So Vea is one of the Saints’ 60 interviews this week, 15 minutes of speed-dating per player, all prospects pre-selected by the team and scheduled in a grid by combine officials. GM Mickey Loomis, assistant GM Jeff Ireland, director of pro scouting Terry Fontenot, director of football administration Khai Harley, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen join Payton for this evening of defensive-lineman meetings.
Room 162 has had the king bed removed and a conference table and portable video screen installed for six days. The hotel pool is outside the door. Next to the Saints are the rooms for the Vikings’ and Packers’ front-office men and coaches. For 358 nights a year, Room 162 is a typical downtown spot for travelers and convention-goers. For the Saints this week, Room 162 is ground zero for investigatory draft work.
The meetings come so rapid-fire that in this case Vea doesn’t even remove his combine-provided backpack as he sits. For each player, the Saints have a plan. They’ll start with easy, familiar questions—family situation, parents’ jobs, history in sports, love of football. (Dad works in construction, Mom is a caregiver for the elderly. One of three children. Team leader. Played basketball and rugby.) If there’s a history of documented marijuana use or an arrest, that will be asked about bluntly. (Not the case with Vea.)
For each player, Payton asks a wild-card question—whatever he thinks will tell him the most about a guy he might bring onto his team. Weight management may be an issue with Vea, so Payton asks him the heaviest weight he’s played at. Vea says, “350.”
“What’s your one guilty-pleasure food?” Payton asks. “Like, if you could eat only one thing without any fear of it being unhealthy, what would it be?”
Vea is not expecting the question. Pause. He says, “That’s easy. Pizza.”
Then, as with each prospect, the Saints go through a couple of defensive fronts with Vea and where he would play in them, and Nielsen and Allen discuss their scheme. Then they put video up to quiz Vea, test his football aptitude.
Double air-horn out in the hallway. That signals five minutes left in the session.
More football learning. Vea looks at the video and is asked about his job on the plays, and he gets the assignments right. Small talk about the scheme. Time running out.
Single air-horn. End of session. Someone hands Vea a souvenir—a knit Saints cap. Quick handshakes. Vea leaves, and a combine escort takes him briskly to his next appointment. New Orleans’ next candidate, Breeland Speaks from Mississippi, enters for his 15 minutes. And so it goes, until 9:45 p.m., when the last interview of the night finishes.
It’s not all business during the 14 brief interrogations. The 8 p.m. appointment is DL 49, Chad Thomas from Miami. Thomas plays nine musical instruments, and he tells the Saints he’s been playing instruments since age seven. While at Miami he began experimenting with different beats. A couple of rap artists noticed, and they bought his tracks, and the NCAA had to make a ruling on Thomas earning money while a college football player. Turned out he could have his beats business; he just couldn’t have any University of Miami clothing or logos associated with it.
“Wait a minute,” Payton says. “You’ll selling beats? Not Beats by Dre. Beats?”
That’s right, Thomas says.
“I want to hear one,” Payton says.
Thomas puts a pen in his left hand and keeps his right hand open-palmed. He began rapid-fire drumming on the table in front of him. It is fast—the succession of slaps and pen-slaps and slaps—and rhythmic, and for 15 or 20 seconds, the room is feelin’ it. When Thomas stops, there’s hearty applause.
“I feel like I have to pay you!” Payton says, taking out his wallet.
“Nah, we’re good,” Thomas says.
When Thomas leaves, Payton writes in his notebook: Good. I like this kid. He will crush the rookie show.
The beat goes on in Room 162. The interviews go on, for another 90 minutes.
• UCF LB Shaquem Griffin lit up the combine. Want to learn more? Check out Andy Staples’s profile of the inspirational UCF linebacker on SI TV.
Harry & Izzy’s, Corner of Illinois and Georgia Streets
A dinner trip here with one of his clients has become a combine ritual for Jeff Nalley. The longtime agent is seated at a high-top near the bar with fellow Select Sports Group agents Vann McElroy and Graylan Crain, as 6'1" Texas cornerback Holton Hill walks in to complete their table of four.
The shrimp cocktail is clear-your-sinuses spicy, and Nalley has gotten the better of clients like Andy Dalton and Charles Tillman in the pre-draft phase by ordering the dish and downplaying the heat. But Hill caught a stomach bug early in the week and spent his Thursday flight, layover and next flight to Indianapolis vomiting. Nalley had been pumping Hill full of Pedialyte all week to get fluids back in him and didn’t want to run the risk of another episode at Harry & Izzy’s, so the men decided against tricking Hill with the shrimp cocktail.
Jokes aside, this dinner is about getting Hill’s mind right. Being nervous is normal, but Nalley tells him to just relax. “It’s a test of survival,” Nalley says. “They’re up at 5 a.m. and in meetings until midnight or later. This is all about survival. Smile a lot and laugh a lot and trust the process.”
A head coach is grilling a nosetackle prospect at the Train Station, as the hotel is called in a nod to its earlier incarnation. Amtrak still runs a few routes through an adjacent terminal.
This particular team isn’t one to ask a bunch of strange questions or challenge these guys to a staring contest, as the Seahawks reportedly did with one prospect. This team uses its 15 minutes with a player to watch film of 10 or so good and bad plays. The coach is looking for good recall, the ability to explain a play and the knowledge of an opponent.
If Sean Payton likes to ask the wild-card question for the Saints, this coach likes to ask the question that will get a rise out of a player. Will he take responsibility for a mistake or snap back at you?
The nosetackle attempts to explain away a bad play. The coach is looking for him to admit his mistake by saying he took a bad step and got sealed. The player does not.
“Oh really,” the coach says. “So that guy coming down and cutting you off like that is what you want him to do? Keep you from making a play?”
“No, no,” the player stammers. “I was supposed to work over the top.”
“OK, then,” the coach retorts, “why didn’t you say it the first time?” Later, the coach will reflect that, to him, that player is an excuse-maker.
Indiana Convention Center
Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom hasn’t done positional drills in almost a week, since winding down his combine training and traveling to Indy. Like many other prospects tonight, he finds a carpeted spot in the convention center, on the second floor above Exhibit Hall H, to change that.
Yiadom is working with Ryan Flaherty, Nike’s head of performance. The cornerback does 15 minutes of dynamic warmups—moving around, backpedaling and accelerating out of breaks. Then come the speed drills, some 40 starts and finally a few at full speed.
“We bring them in here at night when they get breaks, in order to flush their legs, get some blood flow going and just firing their nervous system,” Flaherty says. “You’re not able to get your body to perform at its best unless you warm it up and get it moving a couple days prior to you running.”
They’ll do this again on Sunday night. On Monday morning, Yiadom will run a 4.52 40, middle of the pack for his position.
Indiana Convention Center
Four boys in their early teens have their backs against the wall and pens in hand as coaches begin filing out of meetings. One kid sees Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and shouts “Mike!”
Zimmer stops for an autograph. Exactly 12 hours and 3 minutes earlier, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Zimmer’s Vikings were among the four front-runners to land coveted free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“You guys going to get Kirk Cousins?” one of the boys asks.
“I don’t know who that is,” Zimmer says, drawing laughs from all four boys.
St. Elmo Steak House
Seahawks general manager John Schneider is chatting with two agents and members of the Seattle front office near the shrimp cocktail station at the upstairs lounge.
St. Elmo always heats up. You just have to give it time.
No combine trip—or combine story, for that matter—is complete with a sighting of the Cowboys’ bus. Nicknamed “The Elegant Lady,” Jerry Jones’s 45-foot-long, tricked-out ride has been making stops at the league’s major events since 2013. And it’s not like Jerry is trying to go incognito. The massive blue star on the side lets everyone in Indianapolis know whose vehicle this is.
Yiadom’s Boston College teammate, defensive back Kam Moore, did some similar workouts earlier in the evening. Now he’s back at the Train Station for informal meetings for about 30 minutes with four teams: the Rams, Bengals, Cardinals and Bills.
Of the 336 prospects here, at least 80 of them won’t be drafted. Reasonably speaking, 120 or so of these young men are fringe prospects; they could get drafted late on Day 3 or not at all. Moore is one of those players. What’s going to set him apart is what he does on the field on Monday and how more he can impress coaches tonight.
He’s talking about his background growing up in the D.C. area, what drives him, etc. Then he starts talking ball. One coach asks him about Match-3 coverage, which is Cover-3 with pattern matching. Moore talks about defending concepts coming out of a bunch. Really talking ball. Moore feels good about this meeting as he heads to the Under Armour suite a few minutes later.
Jaguars football chief Tom Coughlin is walking with pace back to the cluster of downtown hotels, flanked on either side by trusted employees. Coughlin has been doing the combine since the mid-’80s. He’s 71 years old. The nightlife isn’t for him. Coughlin is walking west; the bars are east.
South Carolina defensive back JaMarcus King jolts awake. He’s been asleep since his meetings ended around 8 p.m., and he’s trying to get as much rest as possible before another big day tomorrow.
His room feels like it’s shaking. This happened to him earlier and he thought it was an earthquake. It would indeed be a rare Indianapolis temblor, but forgive the 23-year-old from Mobile, Ala., who played college ball in Kansas and South Carolina, for not being able to identify an earthquake. It’s just a train pulling into the Amtrak station. He’ll be back asleep in an hour.
David Canter arrived around 9, didn’t order food until around 10:30 and is seated as his usual table by the window at the most important steakhouse for NFL information this weekend.
Canter has been coming to Prime 47 for close to a decade, to share trade secrets and get the framework of deals done. The front half of the restaurant is packed with NFL scouts, coaches and agents, but Canter has a reserved table for his business dealings. “That’s basically become my home base,” he says. “I use it as an office and as an entertainment component. An unbelievable amount of information gets passed out. That’s the key. That’s why I do it. I don’t do it because I want to spend all that money to be egotistical or arrogant. I do it because I want to get information.”
His group, DEC Management, has 11 potential free agents who played all or most of last season, and another 14 who played part of the year or were in a training camp. For the former group, he’s looking to get an idea of the price range teams have on his clients and peers at their positions. For the guys in the latter group, he’s looking for one last shot.
Canter had two cases of wine shipped to Indy earlier in the week in an arrangement he worked out with Prime 47 sales manager Lisa Lenzke. There’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some Burgundy for select fine-wine drinkers he knows will be there. He has rung up a bill of $1,200 so far this week, but tonight won’t go that high. Whatever the cost, it’ll be worth it: Canter has spent time with 26 of the NFL’s 32 GMs this week, and maybe 20 of those interactions came at Prime.
Right now he and his business partner, Brian McIntyre, are in a full-blown contract negotiation with an NFL GM. Two clients were originally under discussion, but with one it became clear the agents and the team weren’t going to get close on a contract number, so they stopped spinning their wheels. Now it’s just about one of Canter’s clients who’s on the GM’s roster, and Canter wants to get down to brass tacks.
“Look, it’s you and me,” Canter tells him. “I’ve known you for 22 years. Let’s just go do the deal. We can do this so quickly that we can get past all the dumb s--- and the back-and-forth and wasted energy.”
No deal is going to get done tonight. The GM wants to think on it. Two nights later he calls Canter to ask if he’s ready to do this thing. The deal would have to wait, as Canter’s plane out of Indianapolis is moving down the runway for takeoff.
An NFC general manager walks into the bar. To his right two head coaches, one a first-year and the other a second-year, have been talking for more than 30 minutes. Between these two scenes, another common combine vignette unfolds.
Two national reporters are talking to a rising star in a team’s personnel department. It’s a part of The Game, a you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours bargain between members of the media and figures in the NFL. Let’s start a dialogue where we share information, back and forth, in a mutually beneficial way. I don’t see the downside for you. I know we’ve only texted before, but now that we’ve met, I hope we can begin this deal.
The personnel man seems warmer to the idea than he was five minutes earlier, but he’s still clearly dubious of it all.
Drinks are pouring. Gossip is flowing. No one really knows when this place shuts down.
A crude headcount finds representatives from half of the teams in the NFL here. Canter is still holding court at his table. A father of a draft prospect has appeared. Indianapolis civilians are welcome, too, and they’re either ogling or trying to rub shoulders with the recognizable faces.
A few blocks west, a 24-hour Steak ’n’ Shake is serving up late-night bites as NFL types head back to the cluster of hotels. Starbucks will be open in three and a half hours. A little more than three hours after that, the first defensive lineman will run his 40.
Additional reporting by Peter King, Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko and Conor Orr.
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