(SportsNetwork.com) – More than 100 hopefuls descended upon the desert for the
inaugural NFL’s Veterans Combine late last month, all of them looking for the
elusive second chance.
Or in the case of some players, a third or fourth try.
In the media’s eyes the big stories were Michael Sam, the former Mizzou star
who is still attempting to become the first openly-gay NFL player, and Tim
Tebow, the ex-Heisman Trophy winner who is such a polarizing figure that the
fact he didn’t receive an invite trumped the stories of many other veterans
who made it to Arizona.
Players like 30-year-old defensive lineman Adam Carriker, a former first-round
pick who spent years in the league with both the St. Louis Rams and Washington
Redskins, or Brady Quinn, the ex-Notre Dame quarterback, who returned from the
broadcast booth to make one last stab at the big time.
“I was out of sight, out of mind,” Carriker, who claimed he benched-pressed
225 pounds a ridiculous 40 times at the combine, told NFL.com. “That’s why
this is great for me, I can remind teams, ‘Hey, I’m still alive. I can still
play this game.'”
Quinn had a similar take.
“I’m 30, but I feel mentally as good as I’ve ever felt,” the former Fighting
Irish stalwart said. “As far as throwing the ball and understanding the game,
I feel great.”
A number of used-to-be household names in the backfield were also trending
like former first-round speedster Felix Jones.
“I wanted to show off my speed,” the ex-Cowboy boasted. “I can still move on
the football field, I can still catch the ball and I got a chance to show it
On the other hand, another running back who nearly had a 1,000-yard season for
the Oakland Raiders back in 2011, Michael Bush, may have seen his career
officially end after running a dismal 4.91 in the 40-yard dash.
“You gotta be s*&$#@^% me,” Bush said. “4.91? There you go, there goes my
career. It hurts.”
Thus far the big names haven’t been the story, however.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer by the day Sam just doesn’t have the length
to play defensive end in the NFL nor the athleticism to shift toward
linebacker. So if football, not reality TV, remains his priority, Canada might
be the ultimate answer.
“The CFL is cut out perfectly for (Sam’s) style,” Montreal Alouettes general
manger Jim Popp told the Montreal Gazette. “It would give him the opportunity
to do what he does best. His agent knows. They’re ready. They know this (CFL)
may be what it is. It’s Michael who has to make the decision — and he might
The Cardinals had the homefield advantage while mulling the potential on hand
at the veteran combine and were the first team to strike, signing a pair of
receivers, the diminutive Nathan Slaughter as well as the monstrous 6-foot-7
The Colts liked what they saw from cornerback Deveron Carr, who felt at home
in Tempe after playing his college ball at Arizona State, while San Diego had
a familiarity with offensive guard Michael Huey and brought the University of
Texas product back for another look after seeing his progress.
The Vikings were the latest to dip their toes into the talent pool on
Thursday, signing a pair of players who were on hand, quarterback Mike Kafka
and lengthy defensive end Caesar Rayford.
It was hardly the startling metamorphosis you usually associate with a Kafka
but Minnesota upgraded the back end of its roster by inking the former
Northwestern signal caller. Originally a fourth-round pick by the Eagles out
of Northwestern in 2010, Kafka, who hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since the ’11
season, is expected to be the third-string quarterback in Minneapolis behind
the emerging Teddy Bridgewater as well as veteran backup Shaun Hill.
And that’s an improvement over journeyman Pat Devlin, who was released by the
Vikings once things were finalized with Kafka. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, the
27-year-old Kafka has nice size but underwhelming arm strength and has bounced
around between Philadelphia, New England, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, where he
spent last season behind Josh McCown and Mike Glennon.
Also in the market for depth at defensive end after losing out on Michael
Johnson in free agency for the second straight year, Minnesota took out a
flyer on 6-foot-7 Rayford, who participated in the veteran combine after
spending his ’14 season north of the border with both the Calgary Stampeders
and Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Rayford’s NFL resume includes a stint in Dallas when he appeared in seven
games and registered five tackles with the Cowboys in ’13 after being acquired
in a trade from Indianapolis.
The Vikings currently have a rising star at right end in Everson Griffen, who
is bookended by veteran Brian Robison, a player on the wrong side of 30 who
endured an underwhelming first season in Mike Zimmer’s assignment-based
scheme. Their depth, however, is very shaky. Scott Crichton, a third-round
pick last year, barely got on the field during his rookie season, and neither
Justin Trattou or offseason signee Leon Mackey are guaranteed spots on the
The future of this “combine” is likely tied to the talent coming out of it
and, so far, some players are getting their second chance, just not the ones
you might have expected.