By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The NFL is getting ready for a big moment of its off-season — the league’s yearly Scouting Combine for draft talent, to be held once again in Indianapolis.
Beginning this weekend, the combine is a mix of both sublime and superfluous detail — for many it can seem as much ado about nothing, a large scale event that can’t be taken too seriously since on its surface its just a bunch of guys doing drills in their underwear — but the combine really is a significant event in the NFL universe and not just for it being a platform to acquire scouting material on the top prospects in the upcoming draft.
The combine brings in all types of personnel from general mangers, coaches, scouts, agents, NFL executives and players. With a host of juicy story lines permeating through each off-season, this mass gathering is equivalent to the winter meetings in baseball. A lot of potential deals could be sparked in the coming week and at the very least fans can hear from the most important people running their favorite franchises.
Our local team, the Chicago Bears, have made some news themselves with reports of the potential release of a couple players, one being the much-maligned kicker. The NFL will reclaim its place as mass consumption for sports media soon, but for now they will have to settle for nabbing a week or so worth of sports media prior to the oncoming of March Madness.
The Bears made some consistent news over the past week with each story tied to the team being significant to the Bears immediate future in free agency. It started last Thursday when the predictable roster move of releasing tight end Dion Sims.
Sims played in eight games last season and does not really fit the type of tight end personnel the offense is trying to acquire. The move is significant in creating cap room for the team with free agency right around the corner, the move gives the Bears $6 million dollars in cap space, bringing their total to $12 million in cap space currently.
Next came a report on Friday saying the Bears intend to release kicker Cody Parkey once the new league year begins in March. That move is necessary, unfortunately his preferred replacement — Bears leading career scorer Robbie Gould — was franchise tagged today by the 49ers. Getting rid of Parkey is a move that has implications on the cap with the Bears having to carry a projected $4.47 million in dead cap space, a portion of the $4.47 million would count against the available cap space for this year.
The final new nugget was the report that guard Kyle Long has agreed to restructure his contract. This is the best thing the Bears could have hoped for because it means that Long will be a Bear in 2019 and it will free up cap space for the team. It was possible with the current size of Long’s cap hit that perhaps the Bears would release him.
Long has been injury plagued his last three years after playing in 47 of 48 games his first three seasons, in the last three he has only played in 26 of 48. But Long is still considered a great interior lineman and he is going into the most injury free off-season that he has had in three years.
Both Pace and Nagy will speak to the media on Wednesday from the Combine.
Elsewhere in the league, there are no shortage of juicy story lines that could become major news by weekend’s end. First and foremost is Patriots owner Robert Kraft who has been charged with solicitation of prostitution — what will the NFL say about this? Probably won’t be much but the official reaction should still be something worthy to listen to.
The draft prospect that everyone is watching is quarterback Kyler Murray. Its still possible the diminutive Heisman winner could end up back in baseball at some point, but its clear he has a passion for football. Murray’s measurements will be closely watched and it would be a lot of fun to hear some reports about teams falling in love with him.
Another big story in the NFL is the potential trade of wide receiver Antonio Brown. Add in the awaited news about another soon-to-be former Steeler in Le’Veon Bell. Both Bell and Brown could make waves depending on where they will go in the dealing period because it seems increasingly likely that the Steelers will be moving on from those players.
There is also the possibility of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles being shopped around then traded. Basically anything is possible this weekend.
Impending Free Agency
Barring some future developments with contracts or franchise tags, this NFL.com article with the current top 100 free agents is quite the list to observe. A loaded defensive class will be available on the open market soon, with plenty of big time game-changers, led by Bell at running back.
Teams needing an edge rusher or a safety can find quite a few options towards the top end of the list. The Bears will likely make minor moves compared to most teams, but things can change if they continue to find cap space from restructuring deals or releasing players. Here is the top-10 list of top free agents as published on NFL.com (see the entire list here):
- DeMarcus Lawrence (Edge)
- Jadeveon Clowney (Edge)
- Grady Jarrett (DT)
- Le’Veon Bell (RB)
- Dee Ford (Edge)
- Earl Thomas (S)
- Trey Flowers (DL)
- Frank Clark (Edge)
- Nick Foles (QB)
- Landon Collins (S)
The NFL is preparing themselves for a big off-season and it started today with the opening of the combine, a big free agency period potentially awaits and the Bears will be a team to watch as they look to bolster their contending chances.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR