Combine: Day 1 observations
Labor is overriding theme, but Cam Newton speculation gaining steam
INDIANAPOLIS -- Day 1 of the NFL scouting combine was split between two cities -- Indianapolis and Washington.
While scouts and general managers started interviewing the first groups of players who arrived at the combine in Indianapolis, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith finished seven days of intense mediation. Though no deal came of those sessions, there was enough progress for both sides to meet again starting Tuesday in Washington.
Upon completion of the mediation sessions, Goodell and Smith flew to Indianapolis to update everyone of what happened.
So what did we learn on Day 1?
1. Lockout or negotiating overtime? Although it's hard to get a firm update about where labor talks stand, there is a growing chance the start of the 2011 league year might be delayed while talks continue next week. As everyone knows, the NFL can impose a lockout on March 3 if there is no deadline extension. With a mediation session scheduled Tuesday and owners meetings set for Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, you get the idea Goodell will go to the owners Wednesday and Thursday with three options. Option 1 is for owners to consider extending the deadline into the middle of March or longer. Option 2 is for owners to make a substantial counteroffer. Option 3 is to have owners vote on a lockout. Stay tuned.
2. What about the coaches? Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, painted a bleak picture for NFL head coaches and assistants if the league locks out players. He estimates that 15 to 20 percent of the coaches may have reduced pay or could have their contracts terminated if a lockout goes at least 30 days. On the positive side, Kennan said 20 teams plan to operate as normal for the first month or two if there is a lockout, even though most NFL coaches have language in their contracts that could result in reduced salaries or possible terminations in event of a lockout. Kennan said San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans, Buffalo, Jacksonville, New England, Dallas, Houston, Washington and Tampa Bay are the teams most likely to chop coaches' salaries by 20 to 25 percent in case of a lockout. Kennan added that the NFL Coaches Association is considering becoming a union after a dozen teams removed coaches from the pension plans and trimmed some benefits in the past couple of years.
3. Keeping an eye on Cam: The chances of Auburn QB Cam Newton going as high as No. 3 in the draft seem to be real. The Buffalo Bills are intrigued. General manager Buddy Nix, who has spent a career watching SEC football, mentioned the importance of not passing on potential franchise quarterbacks. It's a quarterback league, and at some point, teams that are down for talent need to draft a quarterback. Bills coach Chan Gailey said the team will consider all scenarios, but Newton is one of them. "I'm anxious to see what he's going to do this week,'' Gailey said. "He obviously had a great year." Gailey prefers a mobile quarterback. Newton fits that style. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said his team has targeted seven to 10 positions and quarterback is one of the positions. Still, the Panthers like Jimmy Clausen, so the odds of them taking Newton with the first pick aren't very good.
4. Tebow may be out-Foxed: Although fans may be enamored with 2010 first-round pick Tim Tebow, Broncos coach John Fox isn't ready to jump aboard yet. Fox said Kyle Orton is the team's starting quarterback, and he didn't sound like a coach ready to trade his starter. Asked specifically about an Orton trade, Fox said, "I think it's pretty hard to be both. But as far as I'm concerned, he's under contract and he's starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos." Tebow was Josh McDaniels' first-round choice, but McDaniels lost his job during the 2010 season, in large part because of his roster decisions. John Elway, the Broncos' new vice president of football operations, is the only person in Denver who has the clout to hush the fan support of Tebow. If Elway would ever convey the impression to the fans that Tebow is only a developmental quarterback at this point, fans would jump off the Tebow bandwagon.
5. Asomugha's fate sealed? The Raiders will be having a slight changing of the guard on defense. Cornerback Stanford Routt agreed to a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the team. On the same day, the Raiders placed the franchise tag on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Those two moves could arguably cost them their best player on offense and their best on defense. With more than $71 million of contracts invested in Routt, Wimbley and Richard Seymour, the Raiders may not be able to keep cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Unless they can get a quick contract with tight end Zach Miller, perhaps their most consistent offensive player, he could leave as well. The Raiders' list of free agents was so long, it was going to be hard to keep everyone.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.