2012 NFL Combine Notebook

After talking to various NFL executives and player agents over a five-day period during the 2012 NFL Combine, here’s a look the what I’ve been hearing:

Packers Continuing to Get Younger

There’s a belief in some scouting circles that the Green Bay Packers are trying to get younger on offense. And Yahoo! Sports reported that the team would likely cut veteran OLT Chad Clifton and restructure veteran WR Donald Driver’s contract.

Clifton’s contract is up after this coming season. His base salary is $5.25 million and his contract carries a salary cap number of just under $5.6 million. That figure is probably too high for a player who turns 36 in June and has missed 14 games over the last three seasons.

If Clifton is released, the team could turn to 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod or third-year pro Marshall Newhouse, who started 13 games last season.

Driver is signed through 2012 and carries a base salary of $2.6 million. But his cap number of $5 million is a bit too rich for a player who saw just fewer than 48% of the offensive snaps. Driver, who turned 37 earlier this month, has a $1.5 million roster bonus due on the first day of training camp, a source confirmed. With a lesser role expected for Driver this coming season, there’s just no way the team can justify paying the aging veteran so much money.

Buccaneers Poised to Spend?

Some personnel sources believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, armed with a plethora of salary cap space (some reports have them with as much as $60 million+ to use), will be spending a large chunk of it in free agency. And general manager Mark Dominik was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times as saying the team would be active.

“We’re going to do it in free agency. I don’t want people to be worried we’re not going to spend in free agency. We’ll be involved,” Dominik said.

In recent years, the Buccaneers have mostly stayed out of free agency by choosing instead to build in the draft, but the positions mentioned by various sources that the team would be addressing this time in the NFL’s annual shopping period around were wide receiver, running back, defensive tackle and cornerback. Depth will be addressed at defensive end and other positions.

I was surprised to hear defensive tackle mentioned as a priority considering the team has a potentially solid four-man rotation, but considering starter Gerald McCoy has missed 13 games over his first two seasons. And as one source pointed out to me in a discussion earlier on Sunday, don’t forget the Buccaneers were ranked last in 2011 in stopping the run (156.1 yards per game).

Because the Buccaneers are one of the NFL’s youngest teams, the belief is that the team will be aggressive in attempting to sign veterans to help fortify its roster.

Routt to Have Significant Role With Chiefs

When veteran CB Stanford Routt signed a three-year, $20 million deal recently, it came to a surprise to some since he wasn’t coming off of a strong season with the Oakland Raiders. And the Raiders released him after spending seven seasons with the team. But as multiple personnel sources pointed out, the Raiders defensive scheme last season was easily exposed each week by opposing offenses. The defense had too many breakdowns in discipline and execution. Players were not comfortable with what they were being asked to do.

The Chiefs were aggressive in signing Routt because the plan, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, is to have him line up against the opponents best wide receiver each week this coming season. Routt has played in man coverage for most of his career.

Routt, 28, has good size and is still regarded as one of the fastest defensive backs in the NFL.

What does Wright’s Workout Really Mean?

As for the slow 40-yard dash times for Baylor WR Kendall Wright, it was certainly surprising. It appeared that his issue was more of getting out of a track stance during both runs than anything else. For whatever reason, he didn’t get off cleanly and that clearly cost him precious time. But also keep in mind he won’t be playing out of a track stance at the next level.

And while Wright wasn’t as smooth in the rest of the workout as expected when compared to his outstanding game tape, not much has changed; he’s the most explosive wide receiver in this draft and it’s not even close. I would also mention that any scouting staff that drops his draft grade significantly after one subpar workout should not keep their jobs going forward. After watching four of his game from last season in my ongoing evaluation of Wright, I think the comparison to Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith is still warranted. Both, according to one of my favorite scouting terms, play bigger than their listed size. Both are not afraid to go and get the ball over the middle or go wherever the play takes them.

But when a player comes up short of expectations, even in a shorts and t-shirts exhibition, that will raise eyebrows. I get it. But the game is not played in shorts and t-shirts, it’s played in a uniform, in a stadium, and with players on both sides of the ball. And in that particular setting, the one he’ll play in at the NFL level, he dominated last season.

Cousins Continuing to Climb

The throwing exhibition by Michigan St. QB Kirk Cousins on Sunday could lead credence to the thought that he could wind up being a second-round pick during April’s NFL Draft.

Cousins, who was also terrific earlier this year during Senior Bowl week, was poised, accurate and threw with power during Sunday’s first throwing session.

During his time in Mobile, Cousins threw the ball almost with anger and conviction during practice—almost as though he thought he had something to prove.

The knock on Cousins, according to personnel sources, is that he tends to break down mentally at times and forces some throws. But Cousins only had 7 interceptions during the regular season and threw for 24 touchdowns.

The bottom line is that Cousins, who seems to have put together the best two-month stretch of any quarterback of this year’s class, could be on the same path as former TCU QB Andy Dalton, who was strong from January to February last year.

Dalton was thought to be destined to be a fourth-round pick coming into Senior Bowl week, but a strong pre-draft period pushed him all the way to the second round.