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Ah, the NFL Combine: where dreams are made or broken by tenths of seconds in a 40-yard dash time ... where one more or one fewer rep on the bench press can mean as much as how a player performed in a big game ... and where certain players just hope to lay low.
Or if you're Johnny Manziel: the place to try to rehab your image.
The biggest question of Manziel -- other than his height, which checked in at just under 6 feet (but it's OK because he has big hands!) -- is whether he can, in a sense, shape up and fly right.
And so he spent most of his time at the Combine trying to convince NFL teams that he isn't just a party boy -- that he wants to be a serious quarterback. Perhaps his best long quote comes from a sit-down with SI's Peter King:
“I’ve tried to be completely honest with the teams,” he said. “I was in college. I did some college things with my friends. I had fun, and the thing that I told some team tonight is, my Mom always told me, ‘There’s a time and a place for everything.’ There were points throughout the last year maybe I was a little bit out of that saying. I did things too much and maybe overly aggressive. At the same time, things progressed fast for me. A lot of things were thrown on my plate and pushed into my life, and I really ran with those. To get back to that saying, there’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time to have fun, there’s a time to work.
“As rapidly as everything came along, having to learn from my mistakes, through all the trials and errors, learning from that, and at the same time, I had different obligations than really most anybody has had. I am the only person I know of that had a schedule directly tied with our director of football operations to do whatever it was the school was asking of me. And really I’m incredibly loyal to Texas A&M. It was the school that gave me an opportunity when not a lot of other places did. But I feel like with the media attention I had, the scrutiny, and everything that I went through last year, it directly prepares me for this.”
This could be game, set and match for our hopes that Manziel falls to the Vikings at No. 8. Unless some other story breaks before the draft that somehow damages his reputation, at least one of the QB-needy teams drafting before Minnesota is going to take him at his word and choose him.
Things didn't exactly work out as planned for Sidney Rice and the Seahawks. He signed a five year, $41 million free agent deal to leave the Vikings and join Seattle after the 2010 season. Three seasons, many injuries and just 97 regular-season catches later, the Seahawks are reportedly cutting him because of his high cap number compared to his production.
He missed the final eight games and the playoffs after suffering a torn ACL at St. Louis on Oct. 28.
Rice was slowed by injuries throughout his time with Seattle. His 2011 season was marred by concussion and shoulder problems that limited him to nine games.
He played in all 16 games in 2012 and had 50 catches for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. It was his most productive season since 2009, when he went to the Pro Bowl after finishing the season with 1,312 receiving yards and eight scores.
We'll always remember rice for that big 2009 season ... and for being one of the guys who submarined the 2010 season.
That gives the Vikings -- and everyone else, of course -- more wiggle room. Spotrac estimates they are now $32 million under the cap. Some of that money will obviously go to retaining some of their own free agents and signing draft picks, but regardless it's close to an extra $4 million to play with.
What does that mean? We're not at all experts on the cap, but to us it means it should be even easier to bring in a veteran QB (Matt Cassel or someone like him) to compete with and mentor QB draft pick X. It creates less urgency to draft a QB in the first round because the Vikings should be able to afford a decent veteran while still upgrading the rest of the roster. And/or it could make it easier to just eat the final year of Christian Ponder's deal ($3.2 is his cap hit, and it all counts) and cut him.
Of course, it also means that teams that were tight up against the cap and were considering cutting good players that the Vikings could have scooped up will now perhaps be able to keep some of those players.
We're not entirely sure if extra cap space has more benefit to a team that was already in a good cap situation or one that was tight up against it. At the end of the day, all 32 teams have more flexibility. Teams have until March 11 to comply with the cap, so things will get interesting in the coming weeks.
"I haven't watched him much," Favre told USA TODAY Sports recently, "but one game I watched, for like three quarters, was the Ole Miss game."
Manziel passed for 346 yards and ran for 124 more (plus two TDs) while engineering a 41-38 comeback win for the Aggies in Oxford, Miss., on Oct. 12, 2013.
"I almost thought I was watching film of a young Brett Favre," said the current Favre, who is 44 and spent 20 years in the NFL.
"I didn't think I did a lot of things well (in college at Southern Miss), but he did. And and I liked the attitude of 'whatever it takes' — from that standpoint, I liked him."
Manziel certainly does just look like he's having fun out there.
One wild card in the Vikings' quest for a new quarterback is the situation in St. Louis, where the Rams are facing Sam Bradford's huge salary cap number while also staring at the chance to start over at QB with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
The Rams have three options: extend Bradford's contract, thus making him more cap-friendly but also tying the team to the QB for a longer term; keep Bradford and his huge $17.6 million cap number this year; or cut him, save money and start over in the draft.
That latter option is the one most potentially intriguing to QB-needy teams, including the Vikings. Bradford was drafted before the new rookie contract deals were in place, which is why he costs so much. If he was cut, of course, he would be looking at a new deal.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher tried to quell speculation over that scenario, though, with an appearance on Mike and Mike. Per SI.com:
“Sam’s doing great with the rehab,” Fisher said. “He’s really excited. He took on a leadership role last year and he’s maintained that and he’s our quarterback, and we’ve said that.”
Fisher would not commit, however, to a new contract for Bradford, who will count $17.6 million against the Rams’ salary cap this year. Some reports have suggested that a new contract is likely, other reports have suggested that a new contract is unlikely, and Fisher says he’s not sure where any of those reports originated.
“We talk about extensions with all our players under contract. Whether or not we do so with him, I don’t know where all this came from, but Sam’s our quarterback. He’s going to be under center,” Fisher said.
It's February -- coaches and GMs have a habit of not tipping their hand this time of year. After all, it was almost exactly this time in 2013 when Rick Spielman said the Vikings were not planning to trade Percy Harvin. Fisher's words seem chosen fairly carefully.
Maybe we're reading too much into it. The larger question: If the Rams cut Bradford, is he someone the Vikings should take a long look at? He's coming off ACL surgery, but he was playing his best football of his career when he was hurt. Is he a guy who could be an upper-echelon QB or would he be a waste of time?
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