It seems as though the National Football League will continue to expand its offseason schedule, this time hosting a second Combine—only this one is for players who are already in the league.
According to a memo sent out by NFL director of football development and former Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, the league is set to begin hosting a Combine this spring that will play host to the league’s veteran free agent players, which will take place in Arizona in March.
The Combine will reportedly include approximately 100 players, who will be selected through an application process, which will give them the opportunity to showcase their athletic skillset in front of representatives of all 32 NFL teams.
This event, of course, will be taking place after the free agency period has already been opened, and is clearly not designed with the top free agents in mind, but rather is being implemented as a sort of failsafe for those veteran players who are running out of options and opportunities to prove to other teams that they can still play in the league.
Veteran players were previously allowed to participate at regional combines, but this new undertaking will, according to the memo, “serve to isolate and consolidate veteran free-agent talent for more focused evaluation on a comparative basis”.
While there may be a degree of cynicism and skepticism present when hearing this news, given the league’s continual desire to keep its brand in the public eye and finding new ways to generate revenue, I find it hard to criticize this move, which I feel could be of great benefit to some veteran players who may otherwise be phased out of the league.
Obviously, the league has attempted to make it easier over the years for these veteran players to keep their roster spots in the league, such as with the qualifying veteran-minimum contracts that come with a reduced cap hit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took advantage of this last season, and were able to sign some outside free agents that wound up playing a key role for the team in 2014, most notably outside linebacker Arthur Moats and cornerback Brice McCain, who combined to force five turnovers, with McCain scoring a touchdown.
There are other players who are less off than Moats and McCain, who don’t even have enough tape on film for other teams’ scouting departments to properly evaluate. Players spend their offseasons buried on a depth chart and get hardly any looks in practice, only to be dumped before the season and left sitting on the couch next to their phone.
Giving players such as these, and others who might be likely to be passed over during the free agency process due to being underutilized, will afford them an additional opportunity to find deserving employment by giving teams something tangible to look at, that they can compare across the board against similar competition.