In about two and a half weeks, all 32 NFL Clubs will converge on Indianapolis for the annual Scouting Combine. The Combine is the largest "convention" held by the NFL each year, as just about everyone involved in Football Ops with each club is there. Also, most certified agents are in town as the NFLPA holds meetings. The agents are also meeting with General Managers of most clubs with unofficial talks on potential free agents.
The NFL Combine has been going on every year (except the COVID year) since January 1985 and has gotten bigger every year. While the Senior Bowl likes to say "the Draft starts in Mobile," the real start of draft season is at the Combine. Why? No decisions can be made on any player until clubs get back the results of the medical that every player takes. The main purpose of the Combine and why it was started to begin with is because it offered a relatively inexpensive way of getting medicals done on over 300 players.
Each year at Indy there are minor changes made in the format. In recent years, the biggest change was moving the players' formal and informal interviews to Lucas Oil Stadium from the players' hotel and the train station. Since the first Combine in Indianapolis in January 1986, clubs did their formal interviews in rooms on the first floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel, where the players stay. Each club had a room that faced the courtyard of the hotel, and players would go from room to room to meet with the different clubs. It led to a very chaotic and crowded situation.
The informal interviews were held right across the street at the Train Station. In these interviews, players who did not have a scheduled formal interview could meet with coaches of the different clubs in a more informal setting. Usually, coaches from four or five clubs would interview players at the same time. Generally speaking, the same coaches from the different clubs would share an interview table each year. Because of that, the different coaches were able to get a lot of questions answered in a short period of time.
Each Club now has a suite at the stadium where they can watch the workouts, but it is also in these suites that the Clubs hold the formal interviews. The suites are much larger than the hotel rooms that were previously used and just make for a much more comfortable setting for all involved. The informal interviews are held in meeting rooms in a lower part of the stadium, leading to an easier and more comfortable situation.
This year, there will be two major changes in the scheduling. The first is the players arrive in Indy earlier in the week. The second is the workout schedule has been flipped. While the workouts used to start with the offensive linemen followed by the other offensive positions, this year, the defense goes first, followed by the offense. The offensive linemen, who usually have the quickest workout regarding total time needed, will be the last group to go.
In previous years, the workouts began on Friday of Combine week, with the last group of workouts done on Monday. That schedule has been moved up with workouts now beginning on Thursday, February 29th (yes, it's a leap year) and finishing on Sunday, March 3rd. Each group does not go home at the conclusion of their workout. The day after their Stadium workout, they do the bench press and then return home. The reason they do the bench press last is they want the players fresh for their measurable timings and positional workouts.
With the workouts starting earlier in the week, the players also arrive in Indy earlier. The first group of players will arrive on Sunday, February 25th. For the players that arrive earlier in the day, after they check in, they go to have any needed X-rays, MRIs, and an EKG. For the late arrivals, the X-rays and MRIs are done early the next morning, which is followed by the extensive medicals that each player goes through, which not only includes orthopedic examination but also internal medical checkups. Needless to say, each player will have the most thorough medical examination they have ever had.
While a lot of "homework" is done on potential free agents at Indy, some preliminary work is also done on Draft trades. At Indy last year, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles had his first conversation with Carolina about a potential trade. Nothing is formalized while at Indy, but it is more an indication of interest. With the Bears holding the top pick in the Draft, any Club that may want to move up to get that pick may very well begin a conversation with Ryan Poles. Nothing will be finalized, but the groundwork could very well be set in motion.