No time to rest: Combine signals nonstop offseason is under way

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Robert Griffin's height should matter little if teams focus on his ability and smarts. (Getty Images)  
Robert Griffin's height should matter little if teams focus on his ability and smarts. (Getty Images)  

There is no offseason in the NFL, which is another way of saying the league's annual scouting combine begins next week.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be there, but so will a zillion other players, coaches, GMs, writers and broadcasters. Essentially, it's the Super Bowl Part Deux for Indianapolis, only this time the only zipline is to get to Luck and Griffin for the next quote.

Trust me, there will be more stories next week than players, and let's start with five you should expect to unfold:

1. Peyton Manning's future: If there's something going on in Indianapolis it figures that Manning and the Colts will be in the middle of it. They were during the week preceding Super Bowl XVLI, and they probably will be next week. Colts owner Jim Irsay and Manning's agent, Tom Condon, were all too visible during Super Bowl week, and I can't imagine that happening again -- not with the Sports Illustrated story out about Manning's fourth surgery and the potential for more procedures. Irsay knows what he can't do, and that's pay $28 million to Manning on March 8. But he knows what he wants to do, which is to reach an accommodation that will keep Manning with the Colts and protect the team in the event his career is through. Sounds like a good story, right? Sounds more like Groundhog Day to me.

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2. RG3's height: The guy has it all. Arm. Legs. Brains. A Heisman Trophy. A future. Any club that talks to Griffin will fall for him. He's as charismatic as he was accurate last season -- or, as one scout put it, "the complete package." If there's a question it's only how he measures, and I'm not talking about workouts; I'm talking about his height. The Baylor media guide lists him as 6-feet-2, which is great ... except it might be generous. Scouts want to know if he's closer to 6-feet, which is what one GM told me he's hearing. While that's not a deal breaker, it may affect someone's opinion of the guy. Me? All I know is that Drew Brees is 6-feet, and he seems to be doing OK. Michael Vick is more 5-11 than he is 6-feet, and he passed the test, too. Luck is the best quarterback in this draft; RG3 is No. 2, though not by much. Just a hunch, but his stock continues to rise after what everyone sees and hears in Indianapolis.

3. Alshon Jeffery's physical condition: NFL Network's Mike Mayock addressed it the other day on a conference call, and it's worth mentioning again: Just what sort of shape is the South Carolina receiver in and how much of an issue might it be to someone interested in him? I know what I saw in Jeffery in 2010, and what I saw was a dominant, big-play receiver who outjumped, outplayed and outclassed opponents to make spectacular receptions. I know his numbers dropped faster than the Dow in 2011, but I'm not all that concerned. The quality of the Gamecocks' quarterbacks dropped off, too. Nope, I'm more concerned about that photo that keeps popping up on the Internet where Jeffery looks more like a linebacker than a wide receiver. It makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, quarterbacks weren't his only problem last season. All I know is that a lot of people want to see how fast Jeffery runs ... when he runs. Mayock is right: He must be somewhere in the 4.5s to allay suspicions. "Big and fast is good," said Mayock. "Big and slow is bad."

4. Cleveland's commitment to Colt McCoy: It shouldn't take long to discover what the Browns think of McCoy, and my guess is the more they look at him the more they want Griffin. All I know is the club hasn't pledged allegiance to its quarterback ... not as it did last season ... and that's not good when there are two franchise QBs in the upcoming draft. One of them is taken. The other is not, but to get him you must go to the second pick, where St. Louis wisely announced it is willing to sell its choice to the highest bidder. If the Browns aren't in love with McCoy, they make the first move ... and they have the ammunition: Two first-rounders, including the fourth overall. If they were to switch positions it could work out beautifully for St. Louis, with the Rams gaining a raft of draft picks in return, as well as a wide receiver like Justin Blackmon at the fourth spot ... provided, of course, he's there. If not, there's always offensive lineman Matt Kalil, and tell me that's not a win-win for St. Louis.

5. The franchising of NFL veterans: It's a two-week window that opens Monday, which means there will be a flurry of last-minute negotiations with players like Baltimore's Ray Rice, the Saints' Brees, Arizona's Calais Campbell, Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson and Chicago's Matt Forte -- all of whom are likely to be designated franchise players. More interesting to me are guys like Vincent Jackson and Wes Welker, wide receivers who could ... and maybe should ... qualify as franchise players, but whose futures are still unresolved. And what do you do with someone like Marshawn Lynch or Steve Johnson? Or how about Cortland Finnegan or Jermichael Finley? Teams will try to extend these guys -- if they're interested -- but may lock them down with expensive franchise tags if that doesn't work. But remember: Just because a team franchises a player doesn't mean it can't trade him. It can, and there are people out there who think Philadelphia might try that approach with Jackson. All I know is that there will be agents galore at the combine, and when you put them in the same zip code as GMs there's bound to be news on this front.

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