INDIANAPOLIS -- As 330 players begin participating in this year's NFL Scouting Combine, team developments dominated the news cycle as numerous coaches and general managers addressed the media, while the franchise tag period ended with the Los Angeles Rams tendering cornerback Trumaine Johnson for the second consecutive year.
Johnson became the first defensive back to receive consecutive tags since Charles Woodson in 2004 and 2005 with the Oakland Raiders. Unless he signs a long-term contract by the July 15 deadline, Johnson will be paid $16.74 million in 2017. That would bring his two-season haul to nearly $30 million after he was paid $13.952 million in 2016.
The franchising of Johnson brought this year's total to seven tags with two exclusive: Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins ($23.94 million) and Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell ($12.12 million). Those with the exclusive tag are not permitted to negotiate with any other team. The other players are able to sign an offer sheet with another team, which if their original team elects not to match would result in compensation of two first-round draft picks.
The other four players franchised are Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones ($14.55 million), Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short ($13.39 million), Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram ($14.55 million) and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul ($16.93 million).
The tags were established once the 2017 salary cap was set at $167 million.
Just as newsworthy as those that received tags were the players that didn't, a group that includes Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Kansas City nose tackle Dontari Poe, New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye and Cleveland wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.
Those players will become unrestricted free agents on March 9 unless they re-sign prior to then.
Pace on Jeffery
Bears general manager Ryan Pace explained the decision not to franchise Jeffery, who played under a $14.599 million tag in 2016. Tagging him again would have cost the team more than $17.5 million.
Said Pace, "It was thought out thoroughly, obviously. I think sometimes when you can't come to a common ground with a player and an agent, sometimes it's necessary to kind of test the market to determine that player's value, and that's really where we're at.
"He's a good player, and we'll see how it plays out. But I think there are certain instances where testing the market is a necessary part of the process."
As for Pryor
The Browns' receiver has expressed a desire to return, but the club clearly believed a tender of $15.68 million was too pricey.
Executive vice president Sashi Brown referred to a hoped-for "middle ground" when asked if he believes he can strike a deal with agent Drew Rosenhaus for Pryor.
"We've had good discussions with Terrelle himself through the offseason. He and I have spoken a number of times, he and (head coach) Hue (Jackson) have spoken," Brown said. "We do have some meetings set up with his representatives and we'll see what happens there. We're still looking forward to working towards finding some middle ground with Terrelle to bring him back and have him as a Cleveland Brown for a long time."
Asked if he feels pressure to get a deal done by March 9, Brown said, "We don't look at it that way, to be honest. I think we'd like to have Terrelle back and that's a priority for us. That said, we're not going to panic if he's not back, also. But he's a good player, works hard, we think he fits in our system, had a lot of success with our coaches, so we think this is a great place for him to continue his career.
"I appreciated his remarks with the press about wanting to stay in Cleveland, and then it's on us in this process here to try to make sure we can exhaust all options to make that happen."
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was surprised by the first question when he met with the media Tuesday at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
One day after the club announced it would not exercise the option for 2017 in running back Adrian Peterson's contract, the first query from the audience asked for his assessment of last summer's trade for quarterback Sam Bradford.
Said Spielman: "Wow. I bet a dollar there'd be an Adrian Peterson question coming right out of the gate and I did not get that. I lost."
After answering the question about Bradford, indeed the next question was about Peterson.
Spielman explained, "I talked to Adrian. I was very specific with him. I was there when we drafted Adrian. I talked to his representative as well. And I believe in just putting everything up front and on the table. I told him there were some areas we would like to address.
"The one thing you can't predict is what the market's going to be. Usually you have expectations coming into this market, when we get into the negotiating window with other free agents next week when we get back in town. You may have expectations today, and those expectations all of a sudden change within a week. If we go specifically after some positions in free agency, and we're planning to spend X amount of dollars, and all of a sudden those dollars increase because of the amount of cap space teams have, then we have to adjust our game plan.
"So you have to be very flexible. Adrian or any of our players that we want to sign back, I'm up front as I talk to all of those guys, and I'll meet with all of them down here over the next couple of days, that I don't know, because I don't know how all the pieces are going to fit in place from a financial standpoint. But we are very open (with Peterson), just like we are with all of our players, to have our players back if we can."
Thompson Sticks to Plan
Every year it seems, Green Bay Packers fans hope general manager Ted Thompson alters his philosophy and decides to make a run at available free agents. Each year, with few exceptions (Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson), the fans are disappointed.
So it was Tuesday that Thompson told the media his goal is to re-sign as many of the team's 11 unrestricted free agents as possible. Notable in that group are outside linebacker Nick Perry, guard T.J. Lang, tight end Jared Cook and running back Eddie Lacy.
Said Thompson, "That's our intention, and it's our intention every year. And I stand on this podium every year, I think, and say the same thing. Our best intention will be to sign as many of our own players as we can, and keep it together."
Thompson believes the team's philosophy scores points with players.
"I think in our case, with the players knowing that there's a good chance they could have a home going forward in free agency instead of going and signing with someone else, I don't know if that's a thing or not. But I think our players over the course of the years -- and now we're talking about players who've retired and moved onto other things in life -- I think our players appreciate the fact that the organization tried its best to keep their own players."
Long Moving On
After playing eight seasons with the Rams and getting close to the playoffs only once, defensive end Chris Long was released early in the 2016 offseason and signed a one-year contract with the Patriots.
He earned a Super Bowl ring in New England, but on Wednesday he announced on his Instagram account that he is hoping to sign elsewhere.
Long wrote, "Thank you Pats Nation. As a player you've given so much support to, I owe you an explanation as to why I'll be moving on in FA ... even if it isn't a big deal.
"This year and this opportunity gave me a ton. I made lifelong friends in a great locker room and became a champion. I'm so thankful that Coach B (the GOAT) took a chance on me and allowed me the opportunity to play a small part in this wonderful year.
"This has zero to do with money, etc. It's the right move in my heart because I want to get back to being the player I was before. I'm thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I'm itching to do what I do best.
"It was important to say thank you personally. You may not remember me much, but I'll always remember y'all!!"
Long later tweeted, "Really not a huge deal at all. Just figured y'all would wanna know. Hell, I may not even get a job."
That prompted his brother, Kyle, a guard with the Bears, to send a couple tweets of his own.
The first was: "Hey @JOEL9ONE I hear you're not back with the Patriots. I have a wicked good loft for you in Lake Forest. I will give your son his own wing."
He then wrote, "If chicago likes me they will love my brother, I haven't talked to him or the Bears because that's not my place. Would be a LOT of fun tho."