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NFL considering changes to combine drills

Trae Waynes AP

The NFL scouting combine just wrapped up its frenzy of 40-yard dashes, shuttle runs and other drills, but it may be the last time that the event goes according to that familiar schedule.

While speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Friday, NFL director of player development Matt Birk and Saints coach Sean Payton said the league would look at the traditional drills this offseason to see if they can be made more useful to teams. For example, Birk said that the only reason anyone ever gives for running the 40 is that it is the way it’s always been done.

“That’s a project we’ll be working on this offseason,” Birk said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “Once we look at the data that was gathered in-game this year, it may be important to know how fast a wide receiver or defensive back can go 60 yards. Maybe for an offensive lineman it’s only 20 yards. We can actually see that in-game: how far are these guys running? What are the real or improved measures of importance and value as it relates to evaluating players and whether or not they should be drafted in the first round or the sixth round?”

Payton also talked about position-specific changes to the drills in order to get the best gauge on how players will transition to the NFL as well as using data about body types to improve scouting for particular needs. Whatever changes the league undertakes as a whole when it comes to the scouting combine, it’s a good bet that teams will also be using their own proprietary methods — as mentioned in Friday’s one-liners, Jaguars vice president Tony Khan recently bought a sports analytics company — to get an edge on the competition.

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Washington cuts Barry Cofield after signing Ricky Jean Francois

Barry Cofield AP

The rolls of free agents are becoming swollen with released veterans, with teams purging before they binge.

According to agent Mike McCartney, Washington has informed defensive tackle Barry Cofield of his release.

Cutting the 30-year-old Cofield will save Washington more than $4 million worth of cap room this year, in addition to the $4.55 million in base salary he was due this year.

After signing Ricky Jean Francois last night, Cofield became expendable, but should find work elsewhere.

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Bengals release Robert Geathers, Greg Little

Wild Card Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

The Bengals are letting go of a defensive stalwart who had been with the club for almost the entire Marvin Lewis era.

Defensive end Robert Geathers, an 11-season veteran, was released on Friday, the club announced.

The 31-year-old Geathers recorded 325 tackles and 34 sacks for Cincinnati, which drafted him in Round Four in 2004. Though a starter for most of his Bengals career, Geathers was a reserve a season ago, notching 21 tackles and a sack. He was set to make $2.85 million in salary in 2015, according to the NFL Players Association.

According to the Bengals, only Tim Krumrie and Eddie Edwards have played more games as defensive linemen for Cincinnati than Geathers, who made 152 regular-season appearances.

The Bengals also released veteran wideout Greg Little, who played six games with club in 2014, catching six passes for 69 yards. Little, 25, has caught 161 passes for 1,890 yards and eight touchdowns since entering the NFL with Cleveland in 2011.

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Bears sign TE Zach Miller to one-year deal

Zach Miller, Jason Phillips AP

The Bears have struck a deal with tight end Zach Miller.

Chicago has signed Miller to a one-year contract, the team said Friday morning on Twitter. He was slated to become an unrestricted free agent. (The Bears have referred to Miller’s deal as an extension; however, per NFLPA records, Miller’s last listed year under contract was 2014.)

The 30-year-old Miller spent the 2014 regular season on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in August. At the time of his injury, Miller was bidding to make the Bears, and he had just come off a six-catch, two-TD performance in Chicago’s preseason opener.

A Nebraska-Omaha product, Miller has caught 45 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns in NFL regular-season play, all with Jacksonville (2009-2011).

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Vince Young scheduled to work out at new veteran combine

Vince Young AP

Michael Sam’s not going to be the only curiosity at the NFL’s first veteran combine on March 22.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, former first-round quarterback Vince Young will be there taking part as well.

Young had allegedly retired, and taken a job at the University of Texas, but he apparently has the itch to play again.

He’s been out of the league since being cut by the Browns last offseason (roll that around in your head for a moment), saying at the time his retirement was “definitely official, I think in my book.”

Young made a pair of Pro Bowls with the Titans, but also floundered through stints with the Eagles, Bills and Packers as well.

This veteran combine idea is good for the players who have come back from injuries or were otherwise marginalized and out of the league. It also provides some needed inventory for the league’s own television network during an otherwise slow time of the year.

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Oklahoma State hires ex-Bucs assistant Marcus Arroyo to coaching staff

West Virginia v Oklahoma State Getty Images

The former quarterbacks coach and interim offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers has landed a job in college.

Oklahoma State has hired Marcus Arroyo as an assistant, the school said Thursday.

Before joining the Buccaneers in 2014, Arroyo was an assistant at Southern Miss, California, Wyoming, San Jose State and Prairie View A&M.

Oklahoma State also announced the addition of former Bills tight ends coach Greg Adkins to its coaching staff. Adkins had served in his role with Buffalo the last two seasons. Adkins had previously coached in college with Syracuse, Tennessee, Troy, Georgia and Marshall.

Oklahoma State said it would announce the specific roles for Arroyo and Adkins at a later time.

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Ravens drop the axe on Chris Canty

Bengals at Ravens Getty Images

Add defensive end Chris Canty to the list of newly unemployed veterans around the league.

The Ravens announced Friday that they have released Canty, who joins wide receiver Jacoby Jones as newly minted members of the former Ravens club.

Canty missed time with wrist and ankle injuries in 2014 and finished the season with 33 tackles, a forced fumble and a half of a sack in 11 starts. It was Canty’s second year with the Ravens and the stop in Baltimore came after productive stints with the Giants and Cowboys in the first eight years of his NFL career.

Canty said at the end of the season that he wasn’t sure he’d return to the field for the 2015 season and coach John Harbaugh indicated earlier this week that the 32-year-old was still mulling over that decision. He was effective enough when he played last season that there’d likely be some interest in his services around the league, although it obviously takes two to tango.

The Ravens will save the $2.66 million in salary owed to Canty this season and they’re trying to save some more cash by getting Haloti Ngata to take a pay cut.

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Twenty-five years ago Friday, the NFL added a bye to the regular-season schedule

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

In late-summer 1989, when fantasy football owners drafted their teams as “Batdance” played on a loop until the person closest to the boom box flipped over the cassette tape, there were no such things as regular-season bye weeks. Owners didn’t have to worry about whether John L. Williams and Neal Anderson were both getting the same week off. They could draft both, and happily so.

But on this day in 1990, the 16-games-in-16-weeks schedule was scrapped — and likely for good. Twenty-five years ago Friday, the NFL added one week to the 1990 and 1991 regular seasons and two weeks to the 1992 and 1993 slates.

The schedule change came as the NFL was putting together its next television contract, and the economic benefit of being able to offer more weeks of regular-season football content to networks “was an obvious factor” in the decision, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said, according to the Associated Press.

However, Tagliabue, per the AP, also noted that the byes afforded “greater schedule flexibility, ease the player injury factor, and reduce team travel burdens.”

Ever since, the NFL has had at least one scheduled bye per team per regular season. The league also gave a second bye to all clubs in the ’93 regular season but has not gone back to that system since. (The planned second bye in ’92 was cancelled.)

Like them or not, byes seem likely to be a part of the NFL’s framework for the foreseeable future. Given the rigors of the sport, at least one week off per club is prudent. (The 1990 Lions, pictured here, were about to get their bye after having to try and tackle Christian Okoye 23 times.)  And, of course, there is the financial upside to selling a 17-week, 16-game slate.

So happy anniversary, regular-season bye weeks. And happy anniversary, fantasy football owners having to keep track of those bye weeks. At least you don’t have to tally scores by hand and via newspaper box score anymore.

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PFT Live: Vikings talk with Chris Tomasson, Lions/Cardinals offseason to-do lists

Adrian Peterson AP

Thursday was a busy day on the Adrian Peterson front as the NFL appealed Judge David Doty’s ruling that the league overstepped its bounds by punishing Peterson with an indefinite suspension under the new personal conduct policy.

Peterson is back on the Commissioner’s exempt list while waiting for the legal matters to run their course and Mike Florio will talk to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press during Friday’s edition of PFT Live about the holding pattern the team and running back are in as a result. We’ll find out if Tomasson thinks Peterson will wear a Vikings uniform again among other things during his visit.

Florio will also continue the rundown of offseason to-do lists. The Lions and Cardinals are up next as we look at what they need to do to return to the playoffs.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Michael Sam invited to the first veteran combine

Michael Sam AP

Not only will Michael Sam be needing his dancing shoes next month, but he’ll also need his overnight bag.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Sam has been invited to the league’s inaugural veteran combine on March 22.

That’s within six days of the start of filming for Dancing With The Stars, in which he’s participating this season.

Sam said this week his first priority was football, and the show was flexible enough to accommodate him if he need to attend the event in Arizona or other workouts for NFL teams.

It’s a big step for him in his goal to get back to the NFL, as he takes steps on the dance floor at the same time.

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Mike Wallace not willing to take a pay cut

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Dolphins have paid receiver Mike Wallace $27 million since signing him nearly two years ago.  Due to make $9.85 million in 2015, Wallace reportedly isn’t willing to take a penny less.

Via Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Wallace won’t restructure the contract.

It’s unclear whether that means he won’t take less money or whether it means he won’t take a large chunk of his salary now as a signing bonus, allowing the cap dollars to be spread over future years of the deal.  His cap number currently is scheduled to be north of $12 million.

For the Dolphins, there’s no specific deadline for action before Week One of the regular season.  Of the $9.85 million salary, $3 million is fully guaranteed.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s no roster bonus or other trigger in March that would entitle Wallace to cash in hand or to more guaranteed money.

If Wallace won’t reduce his salary, and if the Dolphins aren’t willing to spend $9.85 million in 2015 in the hopes of justifying $27 million spent in 2013 and 2014, a trade makes sense — if the Dolphins can find a suitor.  At $9.85 million in base salary with plenty of options on the free-agent market and a trend toward rookie receivers making an impact right away, that’s unlikely.

If a trade isn’t possible, the Dolphins would be wise to cut Wallace sooner rather than later.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the $3 million guarantee has offset language, meaning that the Dolphins will avoid the obligation if he gets at least $3 million from someone else.  The sooner he’s on the market, the more likely he’ll exceed that number.

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NFL adds to its Washington office, hiring a Republican lobbyist

Capitol Getty Images

The NFL is on a bit of a losing streak in the judicial branch of government lately, but they’re hoping to do a bit better in the legislative.

Toward that end, the league is hiring Nicole Gustafson as its chief Republican lobbyist, according to The Hill.

Gustafson is an established Capitol Hill presence, working for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and previously for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Her title will be vice president for public policy and government affairs, a new position in the league’s Washington office.

“Anyone who knows me knows that my passion for politics is only trumped by my love of football. I’m so excited to merge the two in this new opportunity with the NFL, and to be able to work with an amazing team on a diverse set of issues,” she said in an emailed statement. “It is bittersweet to be leaving such a great team here, but I look forward to continuing to work with them and all my Hill friends in this new capacity.”

The NFL needs all the help it can get in Washington, as they face challenges on issues as diverse as player safety, drug policies, their tax-exempt status and blackout legislation.

The report says the league has spent “about $10.12 million” lobbying since 2007, and  $1.22 million last year, a number that will certainly continue to climb.

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J.J. Nelson, Combine’s fastest player, hopes Olympics are an option

Nelson AP

The fastest receivers at the Combine rarely become productive NFL players, but former UAB wide receiver J.J. Nelson has a fallback plan if the NFL doesn’t work out for him.

Nelson, whose 4.28-second 40-yard dash was the fastest at this year’s Combine, told Yahoo Sports that if he’s not drafted and doesn’t sign on as an undrafted free agent, he would like to turn his attention to track and see if he can make the Olympics.

“I have a lot of interest in that,” he said. “Whatever happens with football, I was considering running in the Olympics.”

Realistically, that’s a long shot. Nelson is obviously fast but being fast enough to make it the U.S. Olympic team is a whole other level of speed. Nelson was a good track runner in high school, but he didn’t run track in college.

Still, it’s worth thinking about, especially considering that Nelson weighed in at just 156 pounds at the Combine. He might simply be too small for the NFL. The Olympics would be a nice fallback plan.

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Dolphins to release Brian Hartline

Brian+Hartline+joSHV28qxugm Getty Images

At a time when it’s still unclear what the Dolphins will do with receiver Mike Wallace, it’s very clear what they’ll do with receiver Brian Hartline.

They’ll cut him.

According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Dolphins have said Hartline will be released on Friday.

Hartline was due to earn a base salary of $5.9 million this year, the third of a five-year, $30 million contract.  He received $7 million to sign; $4.2 million must still be accounted for on the salary cap.

In his first season under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Hartline had the lowest yardage output of his career with 474, despite starting all 16 regular-season games in 2014.  He surpassed 1,000 yards in 2013 and 2012.

The move gives the 28-year-old a 10-day head start on the open market.  It’ll be interesting to see how much teams are willing to pay for veteran receivers, given that rookies seem to be making a bigger impact right out of the gates.

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Falcons release Harry Douglas

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Falcons are no longer wild about Harry Douglas.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the team has released the veteran wide receiver as they continue to get their house in order ahead of the start of the new league year. The move comes a day after the Falcons parted ways with running back Steven Jackson.

Douglas was set to make $3.5 million in the final year of the four-year contract he signed with the Falcons in 2012. None of that money was guaranteed, so the Falcons will be able to put it toward other uses this offseason.

Douglas battled injuries while playing in 12 games for the Falcons last season and finished the year with 51 catches for 556 yards and two touchdowns. He had 85 catches for 1,067 yards in 2013 as he stepped into a larger role with Julio Jones out of the lineup, but he’s been best suited for a complementary role on offense over the course of his career.

He’ll likely have a few teams interested in giving him a chance to fill one and Douglas is free to sign with them before other free agents flood the market on March 10.

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