General Manager Bruce Allen expects a busy week in Indianapolis, and not only due to the 300 college players on hand
The NFL Scouting Combine began on Wednesday, which means Indianapolis is currently overrun with eager men looking to put up big numbers.
Oh, and there are some players at the Combine, too.
While 300 or so draft hopefuls try to establish good 40-yard dash and vertical leap scores, the agents for veteran players will be just as actively hunting for good deals for their clients. Thanks to the proximity of the Combine to the beginning of free agency, agents are starting to make Indianapolis a late-February hot spot on the travel calendar. This year, with the Combine covering the last few days before the market opens, it's almost a necessity for the agents to be on hand. After all, just about every NFL general manager and personnel pro will be in town, so any last-minute contract work might as well be done in person.
Think of Indy's RCA Dome as sort of an inside-out snow globe. The inclement weather may remain on the outside, but shake up that dome/globe and you'll have a lot of activity in a relatively brief period of time.
"It's really an unusual year," said Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen. "The combine butts up to the first day of the league year, which is free agency. Usually you have a week in between the two. It's all going to have to come together over this last week. We're going to be doing a lot of faxing from hotel rooms in Indianapolis."
Allen said this with a wry laugh, but he's completely serious. The 2004 league season ends on March 1 – the last day of the Combine – and free agency begins on March 2. Any team that anticipates that its existing salaries will put it over the salary cap in 2005 must use this last week to clear enough cap space to be in compliance. The Buccaneers are one of the team's in that position; Allen said on Wednesday that the Bucs were looking at an overage of $17 million.
One way or another, the Bucs will be in compliance by March 2. That makes this week in Indianapolis – ostensibly a key period in the team's preparations for the 2005 draft – doubly important.
"It's a challenge, but the system isn't new," said Allen. "Everyone understands it. The players are as aware of the salary cap and the ramifications of the salaries and the signing bonuses as any executive in the league. It's just working with the guys, having a conversation with them, seeing what their hopes and dreams are and seeing how it matches ours."
Many of those conversations will take place in Indianapolis. There is simply no other time to get this critical business done, and both the teams and their veteran players understand this. That's why Indy will be flush with agents this week.
"Most of the agents for the [Bucs'] players wanted to have discussions in Indianapolis," said Allen, explaining the down-to-the-wire realities of most of the team's personnel issues. "It's become almost a convention. College has a coaches' convention; this is a convention of agents and teams. I think you're going to hear a lot of rumors about different trades throughout the league. When you put this many people together in one dome with snowy skies outside, there will be a lot of conversations."
Obviously, that $17 million excess will force the Buccaneers into action this week. The status quo is simply not an option. But the Bucs are hardly unique in this spot, nor does Allen think they are facing an unworkable situation.
"Everybody in the league has a salary cap," he said. "We've seen some teams rid themselves of some of their players. You don't like that approach, really, unless you have to. Hopefully it will all come together this last week. I think it will work out."