--In the back-and-forth banter between Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay and recovering quarterback Peyton Manning, far too much of which has been public, there has been considerable speculation about the financial extent of their talks. Unless one is a fly on the wall, or has the pair's cell phones tapped, it's difficult to get an accurate read on the scope and substance of discussions.
But one person close to the talks, while characterizing them as "casual" and "friendly but pointed," told The Sports Xchange this week that there have been some numbers floated. Not necessarily to Manning, but to his representatives. The same person suggested that next week, when agent Tom Condon will be in Indianapolis for the combine workouts, will be "key but not definitive" on a decision about Manning's future. The Colts, of course, owe Manning a $28 million option bonus to trigger the remainder of his contract. Absent the payment, he will become a free agent.
--As first reported by The Baltimore Sun, and subsequently confirmed by various media outlets, Ravens officials and agent Joe Linta will huddle at the combine next week to begin discussions about a contract extension for quarterback Joe Flacco.
But while Linta has publicly contended that a top-five contact is apt for Flacco, based on the 44 victories in his first four seasons, the Ravens' starting point is more like the top 10.
No one from the team will contest that Flacco performed big-time in the club's division-round loss at New England this season -- that he essentially outplayed Brady in the game, and delivered what should have been the winning pass to wide receiver Lee Evans, who dropped the ball -- but there remains in the front office some "show me" remnants among the Baltimore decision-makers.
There is reason to believe that a ground work can be started that rewards Flacco as an elite player, but falls short of a top five status.
Lloyd of the Denver Broncos Jan. 2, 2011 (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
--No conspiracy-theory tampering stories, please, but there is as much fire as smoke, insiders suggest, to the connect-the-dot stories linking St. Louis pending free agent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to New England.
Lloyd feels strongly that new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels -- his onetime head coach in Denver and former offensive coordinator with the Rams -- is the man who basically resurrected his flagging NFL career and understands his skills-set better than anyone else.
And while his review of the New England tight-end oriented offense is anything but complete, McDaniels has already decided the Pats require a deep threat to stretch the field. Resurgent over the past two seasons, Lloyd has averaged 16.4 yards per reception in that stretch. In fact, even when he wasn't putting up big numbers -- just twice in his first seven seasons did Lloyd post 40 or more catches, and he had fewer than 25 grabs in four years -- he could always run deep, as evidenced by a career mark of 15.4 yards per reception.
Not since Randy Moss departed have the Patriots had a wideout capable of catching at least 50 passes per year and averaging 14-15 yards per grab. Over the past two seasons, New England wide receivers have ranked in the lower quadrant of the NFL in yards per catch.
Competition Is Good, Injuries Are Bad
--One of the less-publicized elements of the combine is the early-week session that involves players, members of the competition committee, and commissioner Roger Goodell.
Next week, the committee and Goodell will, committee chairman Rich McKay said, stress the improvements in safety and the role that was played by the move of the kickoff to the 35-yard line in reducing concussions. Goodell will again emphasize the initiative to better monitor concussions and head injuries.
For their part, though, players will discuss what they still feel is an inconsistency in some calls on the field, the definition of a "defenseless" player, and cut-block rules.
As noted several times here in past months, there is some feeling among players that the NFL needs to enhance guidelines protecting defensive players and running backs.
Carter - Moss Dustup
--Cris Carter suggested this past week that Moss could still run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at age 35, and, not surprisingly, Moss agreed. In fact, Moss claimed to The NFL Network analyst and former New England teammate Heath Evans, who referred to the wide receiver as "the worst type of cancer," that he would still crack 4.4 seconds on the stopwatch.
That sent us scurrying to dig up what Moss clocked at the NFL combine in 1998. There are a ton of Google entries that purport Moss ran a 4.25 at that year's combine, which was a year before "official" records were maintained.
But the official combine documents from '98 indicate Moss was a no-show in Indy because of emergency surgery on six teeth. It is believed that he posted a 4.25 time in individual workouts or at his pro day.
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Still no official word yet on whether top-rated quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will participate in passing drills at the combine next week, but most scouts expect both to bypass them.
--In an informal survey of league decision-makers, a majority believed that there will be more franchise tags used -- NFL teams can begin assigning the marker on Monday -- than the record 14 designations of a year ago.
--There seems to be no threat that likely top five draft pick Justin Blackmon will make an agent change, but some family people close to the standout Oklahoma State wide receiver have urged him to perhaps add a family friend to a negotiating team led by big-time agent Todd France.
--Arguably one of the worst teams in the league at camouflaging its first-round intentions is Cincinnati, so many scouts pretty much assume the Bengals will choose a cornerback and running back with their two selections in the opening round.
--Expect 49ers officials to sit down with Condon in Indianapolis to discuss an extension for quarterback Alex Smith. The talks are expected to center more around the length of a proposed contract than the money involved. As noted here in the past, the 49ers, with Colin Kaepernick in the plans at some point, prefer a shorter deal, more in the area of three seasons than of five.
--Offensive tackle will again be a much-watched position at the combine, as it has been in recent seasons. But several scouts this week emphasized the growing importance of the guard spot, basically in terms of both power running and pass-blocking, and said it will draw plenty of interest in Indianapolis as well.
--At least two teams have ordered up defensive cut-ups of the San Francisco unit and will use them as teaching tools for their teams in terms of improved tackling.
The Last Word:
"Once you can't play anymore, they're going to let you go, so you definitely have to strike gold when you can." -- Detroit defensive end and pending unrestricted free agent Cliff Avril, per the Detroit Free Press, on his stance that he won't cede the Lions a so-called "hometown discount" in negotiations
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